Time struggles, plein air, and new calendar of events

This week has been a little crazy; two openings and a plein air event for me, theater rehearsals and school and sports for my daughter, and all of the regular stuff of life in between. But some version of crazy seems to be the norm for my schedule every week, and I am not alone.

While I was painting this week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (more on that in a minute) I ran into an artist friend and we started talking about how disorganized we can sometimes feel and how guilty we feel about not being better at marketing to social media, to our newsletters, and yes, to our blogs. When time is crunched, the choice of whether to do any of the above or to paint always seems to result in painting as the clear winner.

It’s a frustration that I know a lot of other artists share, many of whom, like me, aren’t always masters of time management or organization. “I need a calendar of events on my website,” I said to my friend, “a quick and simple way for people to check in and see my upcoming shows and events. Maybe it would help me stay more organized too.” When I got home that afternoon, I checked out my site and lo and behold it does have that functionality. So viola! I now have a calendar!😃

If you check out the aforementioned calendar you can see that I have been spending the week painting at the botanical gardens as part of a promotion for National Public Gardens Week. Local artists who applied to paint during this week will submit their completed works for a chance to be juried in to an exhibit at Lewis Ginter that opens June 22nd.

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

I really like these kind of events because even though I regularly paint outside on my own, they get me out and focused and inspired. I enjoy seeing what other artists are doing and collecting new ideas on various artists setups and tools of the trade. It’s a very different vibe from the more formal events that are organized around competition. I have some friends who thrive on competition and use it as a means to drive themselves onward to bigger heights. For myself, it’s a little more stressful. I do the competitions from time to time and haven’t yet regretted it, but I am not that competitive by nature. So the more relaxed festivals that are really just a celebration of art and plein air painting are truly my jam.

More Plein Air to Studio

Last week I continued my quest to mine some of my favorite plein air paintings for larger studio pieces.  The inspiration piece was a little 9x12" Plein air painting I did in the spring down at Maymont Park in Richmond, VA:

"Spring Renewal", Oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Spring Renewal", Oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

I really wanted to keep the same freshness in the larger 24x30" painting, so aside from referencing my photos for some of the branch formations, I used my Plein air piece as my main reference. Here is my setup, with the large and small side by side: 

renewal_wip_jenniferyoung

If it appears that I'm using a toned canvas, it is because I am painting on one that was a false start for a painting that turned into a wiper. I will often reuse canvases as long as there is just a thin, non-textured base. Anything with too much of a texture is distracting to me and can sometimes create adhesion issues. There is a good deal of impasto (thick paint)  passages on this canvas. Here is a detail in progress:

renewal_detail_jenniferyoung

And finally, here is the completed studio painting:

"Renewal", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Renewal", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

Two James River minis before Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! In a couple of hours I'll be cooking up a storm, but first,  I'm sharing two little mini paintings of the James River.  "The Rivah" as it's known to many locals, is one of my favorite places to paint, or just to sit and meditate. It reveals different features at different access points  as it cuts its path through our fair city and beyond. Sometimes it is completely natural with narrow paths covered by tree roots. At other points it is fairly manicured. In either case there is a sense of the wild and untamed, and her rapids rage in spite of our civilized urban sidewalks and towering facades. 

"Lee Bridge", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" (SOLD) 

"Lee Bridge", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" (SOLD) 

The above painting features one of the many little "islands" you will find along this urban stretch of the James. In the background the Lee Bridge looms. Suspended below is the pedestrian footbridge that leads from Tredegar street over to Belle Isle. It is a most dramatic walk on a windy day, but the view is unbeatable. 

"The Falls at Belle Isle", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" $395.00 (framed)

"The Falls at Belle Isle", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" $395.00 (framed)

This view is the reward that awaits after traversing the suspended footbridge. From my safe perch on the bank of rocks, I often enjoy watching the kayakers making their way across the rapids, as well as  many waterfowl, including blue herons. You'd never know that you were right in the middle of a mid-sized city. It is one of the truly great things about living in the Richmond area, and on the eve of Thanksgiving, in addition, to family, friends, and good food, I am feeling grateful to live here. 



In Autumn Light

'Tis the season for small paintings! This time of year, galleries promote their artists with small works shows for the holidays. There is a good reason for this. Small paintings are a nice way to start an original art collection or offer a unique and thoughtful gift without breaking the bank. With that in mind, here is a little 6x6" painting in water miscible oils of a quaint little street in my home town.

"In Autumn Light", Oil on Board, 6x6" ©Jennifer Young

"In Autumn Light", Oil on Board, 6x6" ©Jennifer Young

This is a well known Episcopal church on Virginia Street in Ashland. I experimented with a lot of different angles, but they all seemed a little too much like "look at this church!"  and not enough like "look at this sweet painting".  Finally I found a composition I really loved. I wanted this to have both a sense of place and a sense of the lovely light of autumn. The leaves have been falling off in droves from all of the rain we've had. But at its peak, this humble little street displayed its foliage like a proud peacock, and I am really glad to have captured it. 

I took a couple of progress shots to record the architecture (har har) of the painting. They were a very few, both because this is such a tiny piece, and  because I forgot to photograph the first step, which was the monotone value sketch (done in my usual manner).  While it lacks the nuance of a larger, more developed painting, the process below shows my general approach to building a painting regardless of the size. In some ways, the simplicity of the piece helps to demonstrate the importance of creating a strong structure right from the start. 

Post- tonal sketch, I begin mapping out my shadow patterns. The darks act as the "bones" that hold the painting together. Even at this stage you can get a very good idea of the strength or the weakness of your painting. Are those values spotty? Disconnected? Or do they lead the eye in and around the painting to the focal point?

Post- tonal sketch, I begin mapping out my shadow patterns. The darks act as the "bones" that hold the painting together. Even at this stage you can get a very good idea of the strength or the weakness of your painting. Are those values spotty? Disconnected? Or do they lead the eye in and around the painting to the focal point?

What is it about the light family that makes us want to jump right in and start painting it? What representational artist has not said, "It's all about the light"? But here's the kicker. The light doesn't hold up unless you have the shadow to support it. Shadows first give the painting its form, then that gorgeous light can follow.

What is it about the light family that makes us want to jump right in and start painting it? What representational artist has not said, "It's all about the light"? But here's the kicker. The light doesn't hold up unless you have the shadow to support it. Shadows first give the painting its form, then that gorgeous light can follow.

At one time I painted a lot of "minis" (6x8" and under)  both en plein air and in the studio. They sold well, but I got really burnt out after a while and longed for more opportunity to massage my ideas into something more fully developed, more refined. But now, upon request, I am revisiting the concept of the "small stuff" for its own sake. I have to say, there is something to be said for the simple statement. It lends itself so well to  the direct approach, and there is a freshness to it that says, while perhaps not everything, sometimes just enough. 

 

A perfect morning at the river

The last couple  of times I went out plein air painting, I faced some pretty gray wet days. The gray days are, for me, always the hardest. Things don't flow as easily with those close value ranges, and I don't get as excited about composing without the drama of the light. Don't get me wrong. I love a painting filled with gorgeous muted color and subtle grays, but a successful painting of lovely grays (not mud)  is not as easy to achieve as it might seem. Luckily, Tuesday, the sun was shining. It was also my last, long open day not scheduled with house stuff, moving, or preschool parties. So I and a couple of  painting buddies met down at the James River on Belle Isle to do a little painting.

I love this place. I have gone on several hikes around Belle Isle (which I highly recommend doing if you are in RVA). It's a fascinating place, from the trek on high over the footbridge that straddles the James River, to it's dark legacy as a  former Confederate POW camp during the Civil War.  Earlier still, it was also a pre-English settlement fishing ground for the Native Americans.

But aside from some historic markers and some large boulders used as cemetery markers, there is not much left from those eras to remind us. Nature has largely reclaimed it today, making it a beautiful spot for wildlife watching, sunbathing, or  kayaking on the class IV Hollywood rapids.

We set up at various points along some of the big flat rocks at the Rapids. Practically our only other companion when we first arrived was a beautiful gray heron sunning itself on a nearby rock. Later the sunbathers came, but they only added to the feeling that I was on a mini vacation being lulled by the sound of rushing water all around me.

"Morning at Belle Isle" Oil on panel, 9x12"©  Jennifer E Young

"Morning at Belle Isle" Oil on panel, 9x12"© Jennifer E Young

This was a practice in painting rocks. The large rock in the foreground was mostly in shadow, with just a few dapples of light peeking through the shade of the nearby trees. Once that large rock started getting lit up I knew I'd better wrap it up.

James River Painting in progress by Jennifer E Young
James River Painting in progress by Jennifer E Young

I'm still working on my plein air speed. I may be spending a little too long getting myself set up just so, but each time I go out I feel like I am getting a little bit more comfortable outdoors again. I am not exactly a novice to plein air painting, but life demands have kept me more often in the studio these last several years, and it's been hard to keep up a momentum or a rhythm painting outdoors. For me,  it's one of those things where you either use it or lose it, but I am determined to get my plein air painting chops back! Hopefully once we move and settle in the new house (a matter of a couple of weeks now) I will be able to "use it" even more.