Happy New Year!

Happy New Year (almost)! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and looks forward to a great 2015. I took a little time off over the holidays to be with my family. Now that my daughter is 4 1/2 years old, Christmas time is really so much fun and I wanted to enjoy and cherish every minute of it. Even so, I did manage to "sneak in" one more painting before ringing in a brand new year.

"Mist in the Valley" Oil on Canvas, 12x16" © Jennifer E Young

"Mist in the Valley" Oil on Canvas, 12x16" ©Jennifer E Young

This painting is based on a combination of photos and a plein air study I did while I was in the Lot Valley a few years ago. If you have been reading my blog a while, you may recall that I tackled similar subject matter before, and will likely explore compositional variations again. I have a lot of reference photos from that morning and it was probably one of the most memorable plein air sessions from the trip. It's also both fun and challenging painting such a close range of values and all of those soft edges.

P.S. Did you know 2015 is the year of the sheep in the Chinese astrology? I'm not really superstitious or into astrology and didn't realize it when I started working on this piece. But it's pretty coincidental, don't you think?

A gray morning in the mountains

It's been a while since I have painted a studio piece of the American south, but my recent trip to the mountains has inspired me to explore the subject back home in the studio. This little mountain painting was a bit of an experiment, as I tend to shy away from painting gray days. The light is flatter, color is more "local", and values tend to be a lot closer. While I have sometimes been "forced" to paint gray days when I'm field painting, without that beautiful sunlight casting shadows across the picture plane, composing a subject of a gray dayis a challenge I too often tend to avoid. So this is a painting of facing that resistance head on.

"Morning in Gray and Gold" Oil on Linen, 12x16"  ©Jennifer Young

"Morning in Gray and Gold" Oil on Linen, 12x16" ©Jennifer Young

It doesn't hurt, of course, that in the mountains many of the grayest days are incredibly stunning and full of quiet majesty and spectacular atmospheric effects. The sun was scarce on the first half of my painting trip, so I had plenty of opportunity to observe these effects.

This painting is based on wiper I did on site. The wiper didn't survive (which is why its known as a wiper!) but the memory did, as well as a number of photos I took of the area. This location is a birding trail I happened upon while exploring Nellysford, VA. I think those yellow flowers are goldenrod (?) They were everywhere, along with many other stunning wildflowers. The main attraction for me though, was the mist and clouds that settled on the distant mountains, with just a bit of the mountaintop peeking through. It was really something to behold.

"Early Risers, Southern France" (WIP painting complete)

Another milestone... I'm christening this painting as the first studio piece in my new art studio! Since I've made a commitment to myself become an earlier riser lately, I thought this title was appropriate:

"Early Risers, Southern France" Oil on Linen, 24x30 (SOLD) ©Jennifer Young

"Early Risers, Southern France" Oil on Linen, 24x30 (SOLD) ©Jennifer Young

I shooed away the pig that had wandered in on the left hand side of the painting in the last version and finally got the hang of painting sheep.

I think I'm getting the hang of painting these misty, foggy scenes. They're a lot of fun, as they really challenge you to pay attention to your edges. I've kept almost all of my edges soft and values fairly close together.

I also feel that it helped immensely having painting a study of this scene on site. I remember this morning so well. This scene was just a walk up the country road from the old convent where I was staying last year in the Lot Valley. It was very early and mist was rising off of everything. The sun was just trying to poke through and gave everything a lovely cool rose glow. It really was a magical moment!

French pastoral WIP and new studio sneak peek

Like everything else these last several months, it has taken longer than I expected to get myself set up in the new studio space. But I love how it has come along; and I'm happy to say that I am at least set up enough where I am working again. I must admit I feel a bit rusty with my painting. At least I've done a little bit of drawing during the chaos, so in that way I have been able to keep my hand in it, so to speak.  But for me, the discipline of painting is a bit like the discipline of physical exercise. It seems to take a while to get "in the flow", but it's oh so easy to get out of shape. (What's up with that?!) The only thing I know to do is just get started and work through the awkwardness.

I thought I'd start up again where I left off--by working on another studio painting based on a plein air study from my trip to the Dordogne. Here is the study:

french countryside plein air painting Jennifer Young

When I originally posted about this piece I called it a "Work-in-Progress", as it was my intention to finish it. But ultimately I would reap greater benefit from it by keeping it as a study. In misty, foggy scenes, the values are so close together and it can be a real challenge to achieve this effect. So even though this is not a "complete" piece, it had a lot of information for me to reference in terms of accurate values and edges captured on site.

Here is the larger piece (24x30") currently under way:

landscape painting of southern France by Jennifer Young

At this point I've kept everything pretty much as flat shapes and used very limited color, as I work out a general pattern and design. I'll need to keep adjusting the values as I know they are stronger than the study overall, but particularly in the middle distance. I also plan to use a lot more paint and more color variations, all the while keeping color subtle and the edges very soft. That's my aim, any way. It was challenging on a small scale and even more-so on a larger one! But I'm game. (I think!)

As for my other "WIP" (my new studio), I do have some more pics to share, as I've begun moving in setting up workstations. But I'll give my readers a break from "construction-speak" and save that for another post. Meanwhile, just a sneak peek at my painting area:

artist's studio setupÂ

Wild Roses (France); and thoughts on painting loose

As mentioned in my previous post, here's a new painting about to come off the easel. Maybe a touch or two yet to go, but mostly it's done. Photographing this painting was a bit of a challenge today due to a lack of good light. It's a pretty decent shot, though I may try a reshoot once the sun comes out:

French landscape painting of the Lot Valley by Jennifer Young

"Wild Roses" Oil on Linen, 20x16" ©Jennifer Young

This is another scene from one of those beautiful misty mornings in southern France that I've written of before.  Even though this was somewhat after the heavy fog had lifted, the moist air remained, and the diffused, cool light kept everything soft but saturated.

One thing I've been learning from my plein air paintings is that even the less successful pieces done on location have a certain freshness to them (if I don't allow myself to work them beyond the point that I should). There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that I am painting from life.

But I've also noticed that the brush size-to-canvas ratio is much larger due to the smaller plein air canvases. I don't use tiny brushes (unless I need to sign my name) so I'm really forced to simplify. And I must say, by the very nature of the way I have to approach the painting, I often end up saying more with less. 

I try to keep this in mind on  days when I'm working on larger paintings in the studio, and to make a more conscious effort to retain that same kind of freshness and looseness. It's a different matter than plein air painting, but it's been helpful for me to consciously reach for the largest possible brushes to do the task at hand, and to *try* to state things as economically as possible rather than overworking.

It's not an overstatement to say that sometimes my greatest motivations are my limitations. Andin the field, time is a built-in task-master due to the ever-changing light. But in my studio, unless my schedule is crammed full of other chores (as it is soon about to become!) there usually isn't that same kind of urgency. Without that, it can really be tempting to noodle around endlessly.

In my studio work, along with relying a lot more on memory, my challenge is to supply my own urgency, and to work more quickly and loosely. All this and still have command of the paint. There's the rub. After all, loose and quick is pretty pointless if the drawing or composition is weak or if the values aren't right.

It's a lot to consider if you think about it, but it is a fun challenge for me, and hopefully in time I can continue to work even more effectively in this manner on larger canvases still.