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!

Sharpening the Saw: The value of a quick study

Last month I completed a weekly class with David Tanner, a painter well-known locally for his portraiture. I believe the best artists, and especially the best teachers, are also lifelong students. Thus I am a true believer in the periodic practice of focused study to “sharpen the saw” and to discover new ways of seeing and working.

My current obligations and time constraints make it difficult to invest in a week-long workshop out of town. So I was really interested when a fellow painter-friend recommended David’s class down at the Visual Art Center in Richmond. I have known and enjoyed David’s paintings for his sensitive portraits, his impressionist style and beautiful color sense, so I was delighted when his class, “Increase Your Speed & Capture the Color in Oil” jived with my daughter’s school and after-school schedule.

I loved the concept of this class, which was to distill the subjects, whether still life or the live model, to essential planes, light and shadow, and color, in quick small oil studies. Each class was roughly divided into two 1 1/2 hour sessions, beginning with one or two objects (a vase, a watering can, a piece of fruit) and various combinations of colorful backdrops. Gradually through each class the level of difficulty increased, until switching at last to the live model.

Quick studies done in class, 8x10” and 6x8”

Quick studies done in class, 8x10” and 6x8”

My biggest takeaway from this class was the importance of regular practice, with quick studies as a sort of artistic calisthenics. These little paintings, no matter how mundane the subject, were created with the INTENTION of allowing them to just be studies and nothing more. So often with my time constraints I feel a great pressure to create finished pieces— something I can sign and put a frame on. This class was not about that—at all—and I loved it! Frankly, I needed it.

Putting a time limit on the sessions helped me avoid jumping into the fussy details too soon. This occurs also with plein air painting practice, though I tend to spend more time on those, establishing correct proportion and a pleasing composition. I can really see using this approach as a compliment to my plein air painting practice, on rainy days when I can’t get outside. It’s also just a good a regular practice to work into my studio time, to improve and sharpen the saw.

Two more from "Public Gardens Week" at Lewis Ginter

Today I am continuing my last post’s theme by sharing a bit about the two additional paintings I created during the “National Public Gardens Week” event at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. I will be submitting all three of the pieces I created during that week to a jury for an exhibit that will be held throughout the summer at Lewis Ginter. If I should get a piece (or pieces) accepted into the show, I will post an update here and also add it to my calendar. Here’s hoping!

This first piece was done in the Rose Garden, which I was so happy to have finally been able to capture at its peak, even while under the full onslaught of the Virginia sun.

“Rose Regalia, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Rose Regalia, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

I own two painting umbrellas, and whenever possible, I do my level best to avoid having to set them up. Not only does it interrupt my process by having to stop and attach it and adjust the angle, it also can easily take on the “Mary Poppins” effect, lifting my entire setup with one inopportune gust of wind. But at this location and at this time of day (and with this skin of mine) an umbrella was an absolute must. Not only does it shade my palette and my painting to eliminate the blinding glare, but it (kind of) shades me too. Here I am with my umbrella set up, working out my composition about midway through the process. I use a stone bag on my tripod to help weigh down the base of my setup. In this case, I’m using my pouch full of paints as the “stones.”

The next painting was done on another blazing hot morning down at the lily pond near the Children’s Garden. I thought I was being quite smart by tucking myself back in a shady corner on a dead-end path pond-side. Sadly that lovely shade burned away in less than an hour, and again I had to extract the dreaded umbrella apparatus.

“The Magical Treehouse, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen 12x12” ©Jennifer E Young

“The Magical Treehouse, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen 12x12” ©Jennifer E Young

Though I definitely struggled with the heat of the morning, I ultimately got lost in the joy of painting this piece. It holds so many special memories for me, having ascended the ramp that leads to the tree house many times with my young daughter. I attempted to paint this structure once before many years ago when I was newer to plein air painting and before I had a child. It ended up looking like an out of place alien space ship devoid of all charm, and I was scared away from painting it until now. I’m not sure if it was the additional experience as a painter or as a mother that helped me so much more this time. Maybe it was a little bit of both. In any case, this might be my favorite of the bunch.

Plein air in the garden

As I mentioned in my last post, I participated last week in a “call for artists” from Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to celebrate National Public Gardens week. You may know from reading previous blogs that I have painted in these gardens many times as a resident of Central Virginia. But somehow, painting in this context, constructed around an “official event,” helped me to see this place with new eyes and renewed excitement.

I decided to challenge myself by painting some gardens that I hadn’t tackled before. The first day I went it was AWASH with tours and school groups. There were so many kids there stopping to give their input. All of it was actually very positive, but also a bit distracting. Now, I love kids quite a lot, (and even have one those cuties myself) but on this day they were messing with my mojo and I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing😅.

The architectural elements were minimal, but even so, required some concentrated drawing, some sense of proportion and placement to get right, especially since I was fairly close up to my subject and didn’t have a lot of room to manuver. I moved my entire setup several times and wiped it all down, before finally settling on a view that satisfied. It left me less time than I had planned to get everything down before I had to head back to my house in Ashland, but I did a pretty decent job, with only the need for a few final touches in the studio.

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

When I was (finally) in a pretty good place with my painting, a kid came by to examine my progress. I estimate he was around my daughter’s age (3rd or 4th grade) . He studied my effort with seriousness, alternately looking at my painting and the scene, my painting and the scene. Finally he gave me a decisive and approving nod. “You’ve done your homework,” he said.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of painting outdoors. It’s filled with its share of frustrations to be sure, but the moments of spontaneity are pure gold.

An Evening at the Boatyard

This painting was a little difficult to photograph due to the contrast in the subject and the thick texture in the paint. But I ultimately succeeded in capturing a good shot on a flat and cloudy day when it wasn’t too dark or too blaringly bright outside. Hopefully the energy I felt in returning to the easel shines through in the piece.

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

I have been looking at a lot of art lately and painting a few lemons in between (both literally and figuratively😅.) As a result I feel compelled to express myself in a way that is not so literal. I don’t know how far out into the world of abstraction I want to venture, but I do feel the pull to simplify in the very least. What’s enough but not too much? That’s the question. I haven’t found the answer yet, at least not in my own work, but it’s something very much on my mind. It will probably take many more paintings (and quite a few more lemons) before I even come close to an answer.