View from Libby Hill

Today I joined up with local members of the Mid Atlantic Plein  Air Painters Association (MAPAPA) for an urban paint out.  Not being able to paint lately has driven me a bit batty, so I was really looking forward to today. The paint site was Libby Hill Park, which has a nice panoramic view of the James River and some of the Richmond skyline. It was apparently this view that gave the City of Richmond its name. The story goes that William Byrd II is said to have thought that this view resembled the view of Richmond upon Thames in England.

Plein air urban landscape of Richmond VA by Jennifer E Young View from Libby Hill, Richmond Oil on panel, 8x8" To purchase, please contact me!

It has been brilliantly sunny all week, but this morning we woke up to clouds and haze. I grumbled about it (which always does worlds of good in situations over which you have no control) but I went any way. I'm glad I did. The  haze did eventually burn off and now we have nice blue skies and sunshine. I had to leave around lunchtime so I could pick up my daughter from school, but I'm happy that at least I got one painting in today.

The Crape on the Corner

I've long admired this pretty crape myrtle on my summer morning walks in my Bellevue neighborhood, so I decided to pay it a little tribute today:

plein air street scene by Jennifer E. Young "The Crape on the Corner" 8x10", Oil on Panel Contact me to purchase!

When we see Crape Myrtles blooming in Richmond, we pretty much know summer is here to stay a while. And if the heat isn't already upon us, it  is sure to quickly follow. Yes, folks, it was definitely hot out there! This painting pretty much demanded some Permanent Rose, which (of course) wasn't among the supplies I packed. I suppose I could have gotten by with Alizarin, but it wouldn't have been the same. There are definitely advantages to painting in my neighborhood; my studio (and agreeable husband) were just a couple of blocks away.

Finally, it is done!

Pop the champagne, drop the confetti! Well, I have reason to celebrate any way. I finally finished this blasted painting! It's hard to believe I started this painting of Venice LAST YEAR, but there it is. I struggled with it at times, set it aside, tackled it anew, only to come away with yet more to do. I had to completely rework certain areas, especially the background buildings, because even though I was trying to be true to my photos, my hubby (one of my best critics) told me they didn't make sense the way I had them before. I do think he was right. I've said it before...if it makes a better painting, change it. In any event, I am glad I persisted because I think I am finally reasonably happy with the end result. Today is a pretty gray, low-light kind of day so I may need to reshoot it to get better clarity in the photograph (done). But I have to take advantage of a napping baby by sneaking this post in when I can.

Painting of Venice Italy by Jennifer Young

"A Private Tour" Oil on Linen, 30x24"


In all of the times I've been to Venice (it's been several but I've lost count), I've never taken a gondola ride. I always say that I'm going to, but I never seem to want to justify the expense. I guess I'd rather eat a delicious Venetian dinner instead!  From walks along the waters' edge, I've always enjoyed seeing  couples gently drifting down some narrow passageway. It's something I really should try to do before I hang it all up. Next time, for sure!

October Maples

When I woke up the other morning it was so stunning outside that I decided to leave the studio for a bit and do some plein air painting in my Bellevue neighborhood. Dave and I passed these gorgeous maples on Newport Drive during our walk in the 'hood the previous evening and I made a mental note to check them out again in the morning :

autumn plein air painting Richmond VA by Jennifer Young

"October Maples" Oil on Linen, 9x12" For more information, contact me!

This is not the greatest of photos, so I will try and re-shoot this tomorrow morning when the lighting is better.  There are some areas where I might've wanted more refinement, but I am going to sit with this a bit and see how I feel about it when I can look at it with fresh eyes.

One thing I realized from the timed exercise I mentioned in my previous post was just how long my plein air paintings look like absolutely nothing. In fact, a common occurrence with me lately is the feeling of a sinking heart as I look at the confusing mess that is my painting and wonder if I might be better off just scrapping the whole thing. Bleh!

But then I'll think something like, "Just work on it a little more and then you can quit if you want to." Only a few strokes later (if they are good strokes) I find myself excited again and some logic begins to emerge.  It's almost as if something switches in my brain (on or off? I don't know.)  Maybe I just let go of the outcome and relax enough that somehow I can see the scene before me not as an overload of "things", but as a rhythmic pattern of lights and darks, colors and shapes.

This is not to say that there aren't areas for inprovement in this painting. But at least I managed to get the impression of place down, which, based on how the painting progressed in the earlier stage, was quite a surpise to me.  I guess the moral of that story is not to give up too soon. Some paintings are indeed "false starts" and probably just doomed to fail. But then there are those that have potential and a solid start and just require more patience and relaxed focus. Bargain with yourself to just stick it out a little longer and see what happens. By doing so, you often have little to lose and much to gain.

Small works invitational

There's been a lot happening around here so unfortunately the blog neglect has continued! I do hope to ramp up to more regular posting (and painting!) by early next week. Meanwhile, here are two new little Key West pieces I've done for a small works holiday invitational that opens at the Miller Gallery on November 20th in Cincinnati.

key west oil painting by Jennifer Young

"The Shady Side" Oil on Canvas, 6x8"

Key West oil painting by Jennifer Young

"Towering Bougainvilla" Oil on Canvas, 6x8"

I am so honored to show my work in such a lovely looking gallery alongside artists of such fine caliber. Check them out!

Post- Paint Annapolis

Sorry to say, my blog has suffered a bit from benign neglect since I left for my travels a few weeks ago. Rain and 30 mile/hr wind consumed most of our beach vacation, so while it was still beautiful, there was no chance of painting boats or coastal motifs before the Paint Annapolis competition that followed just a week later. Paint Annapolis itself was fun and enlightening, but since I am still dealing with shoulder tendinitis and pain, it was physically stressful and pretty exhausting. For the first two days, it seemed that I had brought the crappy weather I'd had at the beach right along with me up to the Annapolis event. The weather did turn beautiful during the last portion, but I think I kind of "blew myself out" trying to get something interesting down early on while the weather was gray and the light exceedingly flat.

The previous paragraph makes it sound like I didn't enjoy myself at all, but that was not the case! In fact, while I didn't come home with any prizes, I still received a lot of reward. My early struggles notwithstanding, the city of Annapolis is charming. I had a lovely host for the event, and everyone I encountered in the event organization, and even in the town at large, was warm and friendly. AND I'm delighted to say that I sold a study right from the easel!  :-)  I also found myself among some incredibly talented painters and it was truly inspiring to see so much fine work being produced by my contemporaries. Almost all of the artists were friendly, uplifting, and inclusive, making the atmosphere feel more like a (highly motivated) community than a competition.  So much so, in fact, that by the time it was all over with, in spite of my exhaustion, I was actually sad to see it end.

plein air oil painting of Annapolis, MD, by Jennifer Young

"A Banner Day", Oil on linen, 12x12"

As a painter, I also I learned a lot. I learned that if it isn't happening, don't force it. I learned that if the light is truly uninteresting, you're better off sleeping in a day or two and staying up at night to paint nocturnes!  I learned that in the overwhelm of an unfamiliar environment, I'd be much better off painting simple studies successfully than failing at capturing a very complicated scene. I learned that even in the anxiety of knowing you only have 3 days to paint,  you really do have to pace yourself, take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and give your mind and body enough time to rest and relax. And I learned that all of the things I thought I knew can so easily fall by the wayside in this thing called "competition".

As is usually the case with me, I learned much of this more through error than through trial. In a way, the lessons I learned at the competition are only larger-than-life versions of the lessons I learn all the time through the act of plein air painting. These paintings can be like mini thrills-of-victory or agonies-of-defeat, though often they fall somewhere in between. Much is made of the victories (and with good reason) but for the painter who is fortunate enough to recognize it, they all hold value. The value lies in what you take away from it.

p.s. The painting posted was painted during the sunny portion of the event. It's from the quick draw called "Dueling Brushes". Please contact me for purchase inquiries. I posted about this event also last year and you can read my account here.


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.

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.

Upcoming Events

Just a quick note to share a couple of upcoming art events. First, I am very excited to learn that I was one of 24 artists selected to participate in the The Paint Annapolis 2009 juried competition in September. Longtime blog readers may recall that I went up and participated in just the quick draw portion last year. But this year will be my first time as a juried participant in a week-long event of this size. The entry juror was the very talented painter Scott Burdick, whose work, his portraits particular, I've long admired. Second, I've been invited to be a featured artist with painter Hilarie Lambert in an upcoming show at City Art Gallery in Greenville, NC. The show will feature works from our European travels, and opens on August 6th. Here is one of my new paintings I've done for the show:

 french market painting by Jennifer Young

"Market Price" Oil on linen, 16x20" sold

One of my favorite parts of my trip last year (okay, I have a LOT of favorite parts!) was visiting the incredible market in Cahors. It was a true French market with all the goods--meat, veggies, cheeses, flowers, oils, soaps, and linens--and none of the tourist tchotchkes that you can see in some of the European markets of the well-traveled cities.

I painted a flower stand in this market en plein air, but this is an alternate view from the same day. The flower stand is in the distance, beyond what you see in the foreground- a stand of sausages (saucissons- pronounced somewhat like SO-SEE-SAW). I'm not a meat-eater now, but once upon a time I tasted some country French sausages like these. They were very rich, but pretty darn tasty at the time. I've lost my taste for it now, but it's still fun to say "saucissons"!

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.

A good day in Annapolis

My first full day in Annapolis had a slow start, but in the end I got two and a half, maybe three little pieces done. I say *maybe* three, because the last one was just as the sun was setting over the town and night fell before I could really asess the work. But I'm jumping ahead. Annapolis is a charming little town, and the weather has been ideal. As lovely as the day began, I spent a good deal of time this morning wandering around with my gear in tow. For some reason I couldn't decide what to paint. Maybe I was overloaded by too much stimuli. Or maybe I was a little road weary...who knows? In any event, eventually I did settle down, and started with a street scene of  a sweet little church on the south side of Annapolis, in the sectoin of town called Eastport:

 plein air painting annapolis street scene

"First Baptist Church of Eastport" Oil on Board 8"x6"

Because of my late start, it was approaching lunchtime when I finished. So I thought it would be a good time to take a break and check out the rest of the Paint Annapolis event before I set up for another painting.  I was a little disappointed that I didn't see more painters out and about. I know they were there, but they must have been pretty well spread around Annapolis because I only came across a few the whole day. I imagine many of the juried artists were off on some quiet street somewhere away from the tourists so they could get some serious painting done. As for the others in the MAPAPA, most were nowhere to be seen; even though by the looks of the sign-in sheet, I know they had "checked in" at the information center.

I am hopeful that I'll run into more painters tomorrow. But for today, rather than drag my gear around endlessly for blocks on end, I abandoned my search and decided to set up for another painting. The light was getting really lovely and I found a nice, shady, quiet spot at the end of Shipright Street:

annapolis coastal painting en plein air

"Harbor View, Annapolis (Shipright Street)" Oil on board 9x12"


This photo really washes out my sky, but it was turning that lovely warm tone of late afternoon, and the clouds were taking on a beautiful soft pink glow. Until I can get this painting home to adjust the colors and edit out the little knobs of the canvas holders from my easel, you'll just have to use your imagination! This little scene shows the view looking out towards a little harbor on Spa Creek, and the red drawbridge that connects the historic center with the small maritime republic of Eastport. The historic center is lovely, but I rather prefer crossing the bridge to quieter section of Eastport. There is much to attract-- the quiet, charming streets and all of the smaller harbors that allow many lovely views of the water.

With painting #2 complete, I thought I was done for the day. So I packed up to head back to the hotel. But on my way back to the parking lot, I was struck by the last pink light of the setting sun over the historic town. I whipped out another canvas and started what I thought was to be a small sunset painting. However, the sky changed soooo quickly that soon I was painting a nocturne. Even though my canvas was small, (8x8") it soon became impossible to see anything in the dark as I had no street light nearby to help me in my task. It will be like looking into a Christmas stocking tomorrow morning when I go to the car to take a look at the painting in the daylight. Even so, I may yet pull out a lump of coal. We will have to see!

"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.

Crop happens

....Or at least sometimes it should. I went down by the river at Great Shiplock Park this morning to paint this little view looking out towards Rocketts Landing:

Plein air painting James River Richmond VA

I had a frustrating morning.  

I didn't finish because I began to have problems with the composition. The canvas panel is a 9x12", and while there are things I like about it, I'm not too excited about the near equal width of the sky and water framing the skyline, where the real interest is. 

I think this was an editing problem. I liked too many things about the scene and I was trying to fit them all in. I liked the hazy sky. I liked the purplish skyline. And I liked the reflections in the water too. I guess it just goes to show how very important it is to put a good deal of thought into the orchestration of a piece before rushing in.

Well, we learn from our mistakes, right? So with a little trickery in Photoshop, I am able to see what a better compositional choice may have looked like:

James River painting Rocketts Landing by Jennifer Young 

Well, I can't exactly glue a new top to this panel. But look what happens when I cut this down to approximately 6x12":

Jennifer Young plein air paintings James River Richmond VA 

Better? My kingdom for a table saw.