Take me to the river

The fall weather and colors  have been pretty spectacular this year for plein air painting, so I have a little backlog of images to post as a result. The first two paintings were done last week at a paint out with the Virginia Plein Air Painters group. This is a great group that gathers once a month (sometimes more) from spring through fall to paint together en plein air. The great thing about this group is that members will organize unique locations within about an hour of Richmond. Some sites are public, but others are on private property that can't be accessed ordinarily. Such was the case with this location.

The owner of the property happened to be a Zen garden and landscape designer who allowed us to paint on her sprawling property fronting the South Anna River. There were so many beautiful compositions to be made that it was really hard deciding what to paint. But since I wanted to take advantage of the autumn foliage and the play of light across the sparkling water, I was most drawn to the natural settings along the river bank.

This was my morning effort:

"Autumn on the South Anna River", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Autumn on the South Anna River", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

I had such a great time with that one that after a quick brown bag lunch I decided to try another river painting a little further upstream:

A few days went by when I couldn't get back outside, but I kept thinking about how satisfying it was to be painting down by the river. Especially in the fall, where the vibrancy of the light is at an all time high. This has to do with both the lower angle of the light at this time of year, and the way coolness of the blues and purples in the shadows so naturally play compliment to the autumn hues of gold, orange and red.

Yesterday was my next opportunity to revel in all of that beautiful light and color. I couldn't finagle my way back onto the South Anna River property without a proper invitation, so I decided to return to Pony Pasture, the same section of the James River Park system that I visited in my prior blog post.

"Sun-kissed", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

"Sun-kissed", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

As lovely as it is, the autumn light tends to move faster than the spring and summer, and I only had time to do a small one this time before making the trek back to Ashland.  But at least I got my fix. I can't promise I'm done, though; the weather's supposed to be pretty nice for the next few days, and winter lurks just around the corner.

Small but sweet; Ashland, VA

I sometimes feel that painting really small can be just as challenging as painting really large. Because of the level of detail, this little piece has a slightly tighter handling than the one I posted last week. There was a time or two during my process where I questioned whether I should see this through, but I am glad now that I stuck with it. This painting features the former train station for RF&P Railroad in my home town, Ashland, VA.

"Autumn in Ashland," Oil on panel, 6x6"

"Autumn in Ashland," Oil on panel, 6x6"

While it's an iconic view of the town, it is also meaningful to me for another reason. I gaze upon this approximate view on a regular basis, because my temporary studio happens to be located very near by.  Ashland is a small southern town that grew up around the railroad, so it has a pretty interesting history. In fact, while there is no longer a ticket counter at this location, the footprint of the interior has hasn't changed all that much, so it isn't hard to take a step back in time and imagine what things must have been like when rail was all the rage. Today, while the building now serves as the town's Visitor's Center, this train route on Railroad Ave. still sees a lot of action, and the location serves as a train stop for Amtrak commuters,  both north and south.

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. 

 

October Pumpkins

In Hanover County, Virginia,  where I now live, fall is particularly lovely. The profusion of green has given way to warm rich tones of gold, red and orange. October is pumpkin season, and you don't have to drive too far around here to find a roadside stand where you can pick up some  pumpkins to decorate the front stoop. If you are feeling adventurous you can even take the kids to a pumpkin patch so they can pick their very own.  Myself, I rather like leaving them put and painting them right where they are growing (in this case, the pumpkins, not the kids!). 

"October Pumpkins, Hanover" Oil on Panel, 8x10" ©Jennifer Young

"October Pumpkins, Hanover" Oil on Panel, 8x10" ©Jennifer Young

This painting came about after getting a call from a painter friend of mine. She'd made arrangements to paint at the Hanover Vegetable Farm on one of the last days in October, and invited me to come along. I drive past this farm from time to time and I'd been eyeing those pumpkins for a couple of weeks. But for whatever reason, I hadn't gotten around to calling the proprietor up about painting there. So when the chance arose, I jumped on it. We got there around 8 a.m. The sun was low and the moon was still up. And of course, there were all of those cute round pumpkins gathering round the dirt path and echoing the shape of the waning moon. 

While I have really loved painting with my water soluble oil paints in the studio lately, I painted this piece solvent free using traditional oils. I used a little bit of Gamblin's Solvent Free Gel for my medium, and cleaned my brushes with walnut oil. I'm happy to report that it worked out just fine. I am so glad to leave that messy can of toxic solvent  out of the picture and just pack a little bottle of walnut oil and a small jar to swish my brushes in for cleaning. 

It's been raining around here for the last couple of days and I am anxious to see if the foliage will hold up until the sun comes back out. It would be great to get out a few more times before we have to say farewell to all of this gorgeous autumn color. We will see....