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.

Plein air painting of the James River by Jennifer E Young "Morning at Belle Isle" Oil on panel, 9x12" Contact me to purchase!

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

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.




Winter Solstice reception Friday at Glave Kocen Gallery

winter plein air painting by Jennifer YoungThis is a cross-posting with my newsletter so I hope that the readers of both will forgive the repetition. If you are in the Richmond area, I will be participating in a group invitational this Friday night at Glave Kocen Gallery. I will be one of ten artists featured for this one night event exhibiting winter themed art. But this is not just an art show. It's also a fundraiser for a great cause. Spearheaded by The 1000 Strong Project, proceeds from the sale of the show will benefit Comfort Zone Camp (CZC). CZC offers free camps for kids nationwide who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The 1000 Strong Project has also produced some great art calendars (in which my art will also be featured) that will be sold at the reception to benefit the charity. james river plein air painting by Jennifer YoungSo if you are in Richmond, come out for some fun, see some great winter-themed art, pick up some calendars for holiday gifts, and support a great cause. Here are the details:

What: "Winter Solstice" Art Reception for The 1000 Strong Project and Comfort Zone Camp Where: Glave Kocen Gallery, 1620 W. Main Street, Richmond, VA 23220 When: Friday, November 12, 2010, 6-9 PM Hope to see you there!


I'll be traveling the next couple of weeks and I have a million things to do to get ready. But the weather has been so beautiful that in spite of my chores, I can't resist going outside. I returned to the James River site near Tredegar to do another piece under the railroad bridge, this time in early morning:

plein air painting of the James River Richmond by Jennifer Young

"Coexistence" Oil on Linen, 12x12" SOLD

Unlike the painting posted the other day, there were no "bathers" this time (none of the human variety, at least). But there's still something about this place that really appeals to me. I think it's the contrast I enjoy --this juxtaposition of the urban structures and natural forms, coexisting, at least for that moment, peacefully and rather beautifully.

I'll be leaving this weekend for our annual beach trip to the OBX (Hatteras Island) then home for a couple of days, and off again to Paint Annapolis. I'll bring my laptop with me and certainly I plan to paint throughout that time. IÂdo hope to keep posting here and there, at least during the beach portion. With travel, I never know what kind of resources I'll be dealing with though, so we will see. Oh, and there is this thing called "relaxing", which I've heard is a rather nice past-time. I just might give that a try at the beach too!

Gold Rush

I mentioned the other day that I'd made a couple of sequential painting visits down at the James River near Belle Isle. This is the painting from the second visit. Just a view of nature this time, which shows the diversity that this one site allows:

plein air painting of the James River at sunset by Jennifer Young

"Gold Rush" Oil on Linen, 11x14" Contact me for purchasing info!

 I've painted this scene before, but I haven't gotten enough of it so I've experimented with a slightly different angle and format. I also pushed the color and handled the brushwork somewhat broader and more impressionistically; probably in part because I decided on a whim to return and once I set up and changed my mind, and set up again in a different spot (this happened a few times) I didn't have much time to capture the light that I wanted. I started right around rush hour, but the golden glow came closer to the end of my session, hence the title.

Bathers on the James

I've taken two more two more plein air trips down to the James River of late, and this piece, done near Belle Isle is the result of the first. This is a study done alongside a painting buddy of mine, from the vantage point of the Civil War museum park, looking up at the CSX railway tracks.

plein air painting of the James River Richmond VA 

 "Bathers on the James" (study) Oil on Panel, 9x12"

With angle of the light and the architecture of the bridge, I didn't get much further than a study. But I feel that this scene is destined to become a larger, more developed piece at some point soon. Initially I was attracted to light of early evening as it slanted across the track footings and bounced in the water's reflections. But as we were setting up, groups of  bathers descended on the scene. What luck. I knew there were lots of swimmers in the evenings nearby on Belle Isle, but I didn't realize how many people have come to use this part of the park (right across from the Civil War Museum) after work. Even though in this painting I merely suggest just a few of the figures (and they are barely there- only about an inch and a half high) in life they had a much greater presence and gave a very dreamlike quality to the scene before me. Everything happened so fast, so I just did what I could to try and catch the light and overall structure of scene, not getting caught up in the details but committing them to my memory. It seemed like just as soon as the bathers appeared, they disappeared into the ethers (right along with the fading light.)  I've already returned to the same spot at the same time in order to take photos in hopes that I can do these bathers justice in a larger work.

Richmond Skyline

I went out to the James River with a painter friend the other day, to Rockett's Landing,  to be exact. We were hoping to catch a peek at the marina and maybe do some painting around there alongside the water. Rockett's Landing is a fancy new urban condo development in Richmond that has been under construction for some time. My friend has a son who is a tenant there, so when I was invited to visit, my curiosity was piqued. The vision of the development is supposed to include not only condos but restaurants, shops, private slips and a public marina. The condos are up, and a couple of restaurants are emerging, but still there seems to be no sign of any kind of public marina that was proposed by the city to be developed some time ago, alongside the development of the private slips.  There were a scant few private slips that looked occupied, and they were gated off, of course, so no painting down by the harborside for me. The grounds between the condos and the river are still very much a construction site. I had heard that a lot of the promised tenants of the condominimums vaporized with the failing economy and it's been much slower going than originally planned. Construction hasn't stopped, but it looks to have slowed considerably. In any event,  dashing my hopes for a marina painting, I settled on this view, looking approximately west up the James river towards Richmond's skyline:

 plein air painting of the James River by Jennifer Young

"Richmond Skyline" Oil on Canvas, 9x12" sold

It was all haze and big puffy clouds, the shimmering water rarely disturbed, and then only by intermittent flocks of Canadian geese. Being made to stand for a while and contemplate this very familiar view, I realized once again the incredible gift we have in the James, and the vast amount of nature and wildlife that pulses right through the heart of  our downtown. So the river actually has plenty of tenants already, who seeminlgly have no awareness of any shortage. I just hope we can remember to serve them well.

Hiking along the James River (and painting there too!)

Happy first day of Spring, everybody! I'll celebrate by posting my latest plein air painting done earlier this week while walking the trails of the James River's North Bank Park.

plein air painting of the James River by Jennifer Young "Downstream" Oil on Linen, 12x12" Click here for more details and purchasing info!

Funny thing about this excursion- I had gone out the week prior on an initial exploration, but it turned out to be a bust. The weather forecast had called for warmer temperatures, but had really gotten the projected temperatures wrong. Unfortunately, I also had gotten my wardrobe wrong! I've written before about my difficulty with plein air painting in the cold. This particular morning wasn't an icy cold but it was that damp, penetrating cold that just chills to the bone.

So even though I'd found a great spot on "Texas Beach" right the river's edge, I was so uncomfortable that I had to jump ship that morning. Big bummer, because I have only just begun to discover this beautiful part of the river, and I was excited to have found such a great spot that was easily accessible with a few rock-hops, even with all my gear on my back. As it was, I packed up after only about an hour, not having made much progress beyond some murky marks. I probably should have just saved my panel and wiped the whole thing down at that point, but I thought, well, maybe I can just come back later and finish what I've started.

It rained nonstop over the weekend, so I couldn't get back out there until this week. The good thing was, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. I also had a basic composition under way, so I was ahead of the game. Or so I thought.

Being the seasoned outdoor adventurer that I am, it hadn't even occurred to me that the trails would be a little muddy. Manuvering them with about 15 lbs of art gear on my back was....interesting. And graceful. ;-) The other thing I hadn't accounted for is that the rocks that I'd so easily hopped to get out to my awesome view were now completely under water. In fact, the terrain had so changed that I couldn't recognize one familiar thing. So after sliding around looking for "my spot" for a while (and coming face to face with a huge, magnificent heron along the way) I finally gave up and settled on another view.  It's probably just as well. I liked this painting spot even better than the last.

Plein air on the James- a class and a painting of my own

Yesterday I held a small plein air painting class down by the James River. It was actually scheduled for today, but we came to a consensus to switch the days due to the impending weekend cold front heading into the area. It was a good move. Yesterday we had lots of sunshine and temperatures were in the 80's. But by the afternoon the clouds were rolling in, and this morning there is a soft, steady rain. As for the class, it was a great day of teaching, sharing, and painting but by the end of the day I was thoroughly pooped. Meanwhile on the home studio front, we now have a mountain of building material on our property, which means that if the weather clears the builders can start their work as early as tomorrow. According to our builder, the shell could be up in five days (or less). I was shocked when I heard this, especially since this is stick-built rather than prefab. But I was reminded that basically this is a rectangle we're talking about, with no custom framing for the windows or doors. So apparently by building standards it should be a fairly simple project. I'll have to be on my toes if I want to document the build in photos--if I blink they'll be done!

Lastly, I do have a small painting to share of my own--another one of Brown's Island--not done in the class, but earlier this week. I just haven't had time to post until now:

james river plein air painting by Jennifer Young

"Morning at the Levee" Oil on Multimedia Artboard, 6x12" Contact me for more info.

I was very happy with my work on this painting but stupidly did not store it properly and my backpack fell right across the middle of it on the drive home, causing a huge smear! I've repaired it mostly, but I think I'll bring it back to the site to adjust the distant trees.

I'm becoming more and more enthralled with painting down at the James River. Brown's Island alone offers hundreds of painting possibilities. As I've noted before, it's also a fascinating site for Richmond's history, where Civil War and turn-of-the-century industrial ruins stand right alongside our modern architecture. I found some additional info about the levee on a nearby sign upstream:

james river plein air painting blog

It's somewhat ironic that I've only recently begun to explore this particular point along the river just at the point that I'm moving out of my downtown studio. Looks like I'll still be coming downtown to work from time to time, even after my home studio is built.

Golden Hour on the James River

Miracle of miracles, I actually painted something this week. I decided to stave off the moving insanity by paying a restorative visit to Brown's Island for a little plein air painting on the James River:

 Plein air painting James River Richmond VA

"The Golden Hour" Oil on Multimedia ArtBoard, 9x12" Click here for details.

Brown's Island is not too far from my current downtown studio, and painting there the other evening really made me appreciate anew what a uniquely beautiful  wildlife refuge we have running right through the heart of our city. Just down stream, cranes and geese were resting and fishing on the rocks, creating an interesting counterpoint to the cars zooming across the nearby Lee Bridge and the train trestles that loomed directly over my head.

Remnants of old pilings and bridge footings (like the ones shown to the right of the foreground trees in my painting) also served to remind me that this location was the industrial heart of Richmond's recent past.  Today Brown's Island is a lovely part of the James River Park system that feels both wild and urban at once. It's also a popular venue for outdoor concerts and festivals like the upcoming Richmond Folk Festival. (Reminder Richmonders--the festival is this weekend! Tents are already being raised and lots of work is being done in preparation, so don't forget to come out and support this event!)

As for the painting, I painted this scene in the late afternoon/early evening time frame. When I started I didn't notice the bits of red that were in the trees. It wasn't until the sun got a little lower and lit up the trees just so that the brilliant burst of autumn reds revealed themselves. That's one of the joys of plein air painting--these kinds of little miracles unfold before your eyes as you witness the evolutionary effects of light in nature. In these days when I seem to be going a mile a minute, I'm all the more appreciative of the experience.

"Rooted"- Plein air on the James River

A few days ago I picked up a copy of a map of the James River by Richmond Times Dispatch artist Tom Roberts . The map focuses on highlights of the river around central Richmond, with information on plants and wildlife, as well as info on trails, parking, and scenic views. The cool thing about it is that it's printed on Tyvek, so it's waterproof! It's not, however, paint-proof, though it cleans off fairly easily ;-) I'm so glad to have a map like this made available, and I'm using it as a guide for a James River series of plein air paintings, as I find the opportunity. I painted this piece on location at a point along the river near a site called "The Wetlands":

plein air painting of the James River in Richmond VA

"Rooted" Oil on Linen, 9x12" SOLD

I'd visited the Pony Pasture location that's nearby before, but not this particular point, and thought it seemed interesting on the map. Unfortunately The Wetlands weren't wet at all as I'd imagined them to be. I'm not sure what they're normally like, but we do really need some rain and there wasn't even a puddle in sight in this drought.

Undeterred, I continued down to the riverbank. The river was also very low (and as a result, mildly, er, "aromatic" depending on the wind shift.) But I became interested in the light and the diagonals of the trees and the rocks, as well as the twisted tree roots clinging to the river's edge; so I decided to give it a whirl.

I really enjoyed painting down by the James. There were herons, canadian geese, and lots of butterflies to keep me company. There was also the occaisional dog chasing flying sticks and a crew or two of kayakers paddling by. According to a "tidbit" on my map, the James represents the only white water that cuts through an urban area. We really are lucky to have it, and I hope we will continue to preserve and maintain it so that  "regular folks" like me can have access to it and enjoy its natural beauty.

p.s: Local artists might be interested to know something I've heard from park manager Ralph White. There is a new guide to the James for painters and photographers that is scheduled to come out some time this fall.

A bunny saves the day at Pumphouse Park

In spite of the tremendous summer storms we've had lately, I've managed to get out for a a plein air painting session at another of our local parks along the James River:

plein air painting Richmond Virginia by Jennifer Young "Afternoon at Pumphouse Park" Oil on Canvas, 9x12" Click here for more info.

Pumphouse Park, which once generated drinking water for the city of Richmond, is the site of a large and very interesting neo-gothic stone pump house that has now fallen into disuse and disrepair. But word has it that volunteers are gradually restoring it so that one day it can be used again for something. According to the Discover Richmond website it was quite a social center at one time:

"In the heyday of the Pump House, debutantes dressed in Victorian-era hoop skirts glided with their dates on the pine dance floor of an elegant open-air ballroom overlooking the gentle rapids of the James River."

The park sits just behind the "nickel bridge" (which I believe now has a toll of 50 cents, so you can tell how long I've lived here!) It runs along the James River, and it would have been a nice access point to paint the sunset. But I couldn't find any public river access here. The only thing I found was a path that was barred by a chained fence and a posted sign reading "Property of CSX". Access denied! Grrr. I would have been pretty grumpy about the whole situation except that just as I turned back towards the pump house I saw a bunny!

Plein air on the James River

 After a summer break (of sorts) I'm getting back to a more regular painting schedule this week. To kick it off, I'll share a little plein air painting I did last Thursday at James River. I painted this at the foot of the Lee Bridge, near the entrance to Belle Isle section of the James River Park System in my town, Richmond, VA. 

Oil painting of the James River, Richmond, VA plein air painting "Rambling River" Oil on Multimedia ArtBoard, 6x12" SOLD

It was really a beautiful evening last Thursday, but it was also incredibly windy. I had packed my lighter plein air painting setup with the intention of backpacking it across the footbridge over to Belle Isle to do some afternoon painting. But from past experience, I was afraid that the wind would have blown my nifty little lightweight pochade setup completely away. So I decided to save myself the aggravation and instead went back to my studio to get my sturdier Soltek. Whatever problems I've had with this easel, it stands up great against the wind. But just to be safe, I returned to set up near a bank of trees on the "mainland", giving me a little bit more shelter.

All of this meant that I got started later, but as it turned out, the timing was just right--The light was just beautiful and turned the river rocks a beautiful rosy gold . Dinner could wait (apologies to the D.H.!)

"Winter on the James" plein air painting

This is a view of the James River that I painted today on location at the Hollywood Cemetery in my town, Richmond, Virginia:

James River landscape painting Richmond Virginia

"Winter on the James" Oil on canvas, 9x12" (WIP)

I actually love old cemeteries any way, but the Hollywood Cemetery is one of Richmond's landmarks and a major tourist attraction in our town. Not only is it the burial place of two presidents and several prominent figures in civil war history, but, as the website points out, it is also incredibly beautiful.

The cemetery sits on a bluff overlooking the James River, and is filled with over 2000 trees of many varieties (some of them quite large, and older than the 1847-founded cemetery itself.) In fact, even though we have a number of beautiful parks in Richmond, Hollywood Cemetery is the location that kind of reminds me of a mini Central Park. People go there to meditate, pray, visit loved ones who have passed, but also to write, walk their dogs and just wander the grounds. Today, I went there to paint.

The day started out as a nice, sunny, and unusually warm winter day. But shortly after I got there, I soon found that my "perfect" spot on a bluff overlooking the James River had the disadvantage of getting whipped into a frenzy by the wind! I really did have to cut this session short. The piece needs more work, but I will return on a better day.

As it was, by the time I packed up my gear, I looked like I had been attacked by a giant tube of Windsor green paint!  (Ah, the joys of plein air painting!) Any way,  I am just glad nobody saw my little Jerry Lewis plein air routine. Well, maybe some ghosts saw, but (at least today), they weren't talking. ;-)