Beach Week Bliss

What happened to June? It was a crazy, exciting month. To our surprise and delight, our 8 year old daughter had landed a bona fide cast role— as “Molly” ( the littlest orphan,) in the chlidren’s theater production of “Annie”. I soon founding myself chauffering her to daily rehearsals and painting orphanage set pieces, Hooverville set pieces, and various props in the production.

We had a blast during the whole experience, but by the time beach week (and July) rolled around (the day after closing the show!) we were all SO ready to return back to our normal, boring life. Not only that, but I was REALLY ready to return to painting—landscapes on canvas, that is.

My first, early morning attempt at it didn’t exactly go as planned, however. Little did I know when I hauled myself and all of my gear over the dunes and down to the shore at 6 a.m. that I was without a rather key part of my painting setup—the piece of my pochade box that attaches to my tripod and essentially holds my painting upright. As dismayed as I was, I determined to forge ahead.

I managed to complete a small 8x10” just-after-sunrise piece of the pier, propping the canvas horizontally the way you would a watercolor, on the edge of my palette. But it was no watercolor. The morning sun cast such a light on my oil painting at this angle that it was really glaring and almost blindingly too much light on the piece, making it hard to view or judge values. In any event, after a few minor adjustments “after the fact,” I think I managed to capture the “feeling of the moment” in spite of the struggle.

“Nags Head Pier, 6 A.M.” Oil on linen, 8x10” ©Jennifer E Young

“Nags Head Pier, 6 A.M.” Oil on linen, 8x10” ©Jennifer E Young

I actually thought I had left that key piece of equipment at home, but luckily for me (and the next painting,) I found it, tucked in a compartment in the trunk of my car. Whew! 😅This gave me courage to venture a little further down the road, to find a public beach access and a traditional Nags Head cottage, complete with dunes, weathered cedar shingles, and a fishing boat temporarily moored in the distance between the two. I really love the traditional cottages of “Old Nags Head”, and this cottage “Sand Joy” seemed to embody so much of that local character.

“Sand Joy” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

“Sand Joy” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

One other morning it was down to Nags Head Fishing Pier. It was a little too far from the house to hike with all of my gear, so I drove down and paid to park. Ironically, I ended up painting the beach and no pier at all. I had fully intended to paint that pier with its waves lapping and glinting under the pilings, but my eye and my heart kept drifting to the beach and the surf and those wonderful clouds that were forming on the skyline. So I wiped down my canvas and started anew. In such moments I just feel it is better to paint what compels you, rather than what you think “should” compel you.

“Nags Head in July,” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

“Nags Head in July,” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

After that I ran out of white paint and was bummed to find the only art store on the island apparently closed for the July 4th weekend. As a result, I was “compelled” by necessity to just relax the next morning or two and enjoy the sandcastles and porpoises, which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly suffering. I took a lot of great photos, though, so I am sure to revisit my time there in the coming months in my studio. Hope you’ll stay tuned for that inevitability!

P. S. I have a couple of upcoming summer shows in the very near future, including one at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens that opens tomorrow night. I have written indepth about them in my latest newsletter, which you can check out here. I hope you can join me at the openings if you are in the area!

New auction listing, "Shadows of the Pier" original oil, 8x8"

Today's auction listing is for a loose, impressionist painting of North Carolina's Outer Banks. I painted this little 8x8" oil "en plein air" over the summer during our annual vacation down there. It's a special place and it's a trip I look forward to all year long!  This auction will end on Wednesday, November  8th at 8 PM US Eastern time, or 5 PM Pacific. 

"Shadows of the Pier", Oil on linen, 8x8"  SOLD!

"Shadows of the Pier", Oil on linen, 8x8" SOLD!

Marinating, then celebrating!

I completed this painting (or so I thought) a short time before we left for our annual summer trek to the beach. I really liked it, for the most part. And having considered it finished, I stuck it up on my studio wall before our trip. After our return though, I started looking at it with fresh eyes. Some things that tugged on me before were now really starting to become more bothersome. But I decided to let it marinate a while longer as I was distracted with other projects. 

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Finally, I decided that while I liked the overall mood in this piece, I did not like the little closed umbrella to the left of my grouping of sunbathers. It kept pulling my eye away from where I wanted to go, and it was sort of an ambiguous object sitting there. Still I wanted something near that spot that would perhaps pull the painting together a little better. So I began flipping through my trip photos for some ideas and inspiration, and came across a snap of a little boy digging intently in the sand. I sketched it out quickly in a nearby notebook and set to work. 

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There wasn't a lot of built up texture where the umbrella was, so I only had to scrape it down just a little bit with a razor. Then I proceeded with a little "oiling out"  (in this case with just a little gambol and solvent free fluid) to help the new paint layer adhere to the older but still very fresh under layer. Here is the revised painting with the little boy. I also brightened the sky a bit more as it was feeling a bit intense and heavy.  

"Surfside", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

"Surfside", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

Here's a detail of the figures: 

"Surfside" (Detail) ©Jennifer E Young

"Surfside" (Detail) ©Jennifer E Young

I don't know about you, but I like this much better, and I find it finally worthy of celebrating with a frame and a signature.  :)

Outer Banks love affair

Though I don't get there often enough,  I have long maintained a love affair with North Carolina's Outer Banks. Last week we again made our annual sojourn there, and what a week it was! The weather was near perfect, the water a crystal clear turquoise blue. There were dolphin sightings, beautiful sunrises, and pelicans, sandpipers, and seagulls presiding over it all. 

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This was the first year in a long time that I was able to get out and paint so often. I kind of made it my mission to do so, especially since the weather was so cooperative all week (my fabulous husband and daughter were pretty darn cooperative too.) My fair skin suffers from too much sun and heat, so I took to painting mostly in the early morning or early evening to salvage it as best I could. Here's a little slideshow of the plein air paintings I completed there. I plan to use these as jumping off points for developing larger pieces in the studio since I will likely have to curtail much of my plein air painting during the unforgivably hot month of August. 

All of these paintings are done in Gamblin traditional oils on linen mounted canvas board. I used my new favorite plein air medium, Gamblin's Solvent Free Gel as well as a small dropper bottle of Gamsol for laying in my design at the beginning stages of the painting. This really keeps the transport and setup of my plein air gear lighter and more streamlined. Hover your mouse over each of the enlarged images to read more about each piece. 

Painting solvent-free with traditional oils

Readers who have followed my blog for any length of time may know that I have been in pursuit of solvent-free painting methods for some time. My reasons are two-fold; it's better for my health and I simply don't like the mess of dealing with solvents on a regular basis.

So for the last 10 months or so, I have been painting pretty exclusively with Cobra water miscible oil paints by Royal Talens for my studio work, though I still used traditional oils outdoors for plein air painting. This worked fine, though I still struggled with certain aspects of my chosen materials. In the studio, while the Cobra paints worked really well and complemented my working methods, in other respects I missed the depth and richness that certain colors in my traditional oils  provided to me. On the flip side, I still really hated having to carry around solvents when plein air painting. Both the weight of the liquid and especially the mess of pouring and emptying the solvents really bothered me.

So, after listening to artist Leslie Saeta's excellent Artists Helping Artists podcast featuring an interview with Robert Gamblin, (of Gamblin Artist Colors) I took special note of their discussion surrounding Gamblin's relatively new line of solvent-free gels and mediums. I will admit I have known about these mediums for a while, and even have some of them in my studio. But in truth I haven't done much with them, because other than thinning my oils in the beginning stage and cleaning my brushes between strokes, I don't use painting mediums and so I really wasn't sure how they would benefit me.

But in this podcast, when I learned that you can actually use solvent free gel to clean your brushes during the painting session, well, that got my attention. I can use my beloved traditional oils without a can of messy solvents in my backpack? Now you're talking!

"At the Ready", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E. Young

"At the Ready", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E. Young

To experiment with the working properties of the method discussed, I executed the above painting in the studio. I did use a small amount of Gamsol in the beginning stages of my painting to adhere to the fat-over-lean principle of painting in oils. But I can carry this in a small container (a repurposed bottle no larger than an eyedropper that it once held my Argan face oil)  to squirt out a just little onto my palette for whatever small amount of thin washes I may need.  After that point, though, I paint with mostly just paint, maybe using the solvent free gel to get a little bit of slip in my stroke when needed, but mostly for cleaning off my brushes between strokes.

For clean-up on site, I wipe my brushes clean with the medium, maybe with one last squirt of Gamsol from my little bottle, before packing everything up . The final clean up takes place back in the studio. Different artists use different things to wash their brushes, from Murphy's Oil Soap to baby oil to plain old soap and water. I've used these too, but my favorite is Master's Brush Cleaner. This stuff comes in a tub and lasts forever. I can't even remember when I bought my current tub and I'm only about 1/3 of the way through. I just wet my brushes, swish them around in the tub, and the remaining paint is easily washed out under water. Something about this stuff seems to really get the oil residue off of the bristles and condition them at the same time. I don't know what's in that magic tub, and I'm not sure I want to know. But it seems pretty innocuous, though I always wear my gloves now when handling my art materials.

I'm really happy to be reunited with my traditional oil paints. I still like the water miscible oils, but it's hard to shake that first love, and now, it seems, I don't have to.