Thursday, May 18, 2017

Learning to Paint the Figure en Plein Aire

I've been painting outdoors (en plein air) for many years now and each year I see progress in my ability to select from all that beautiful scenery some particular little area that draws my eye.  I love  places with some mystery, a story just around the bend, so having an opportunity to paint from a live model in nature came as not only a wonderful opportunity, but a huge challenge as well.  Could I create a little mystery with my model? 

One of the first issues I had to deal with was the scale of the person relative to the landscape.  Which was more important?  One of my favorite landscape painting groups were the Hudson River painters.  In almost all of their paintings, the figures were dwarfed by their surroundings.  I also love Thomas Eakins, who again subjugates his figures to the landscape.  But then, there are Manet, Morisot and Cassatt whose figures are often much more significant than their settings.  I finally resorted to one of each  alternative -- my figure in the first painting is dominant and in the second she is subordinate.

Next came the problem of unifying the figure in her bright costume with the surrounding natural hues.  I'm still working on that one.  I've added the clothing colors into the landscape and put a few reflected lights from the natural surroundings into the figures but I think there's more that I can do in the next one.

Finally, as with any plein air work, there is the issue of light.  When the wind blows the shadows shift.  When time passes the warms can become cool and the cools warm as the sun moves.  Painting a figure takes much longer than painting only the landscape so simplifying the figure was an absolute necessity.  Making a value sketch helped solve this problem but it took some serious discipline not to try to change the lights and shadows as we got closer to the noon hour.  Oh, and about the mystery --  having the model's gaze directed away from view makes us wonder what she's thinking and the hat in the second work helped as well.
Can't wait to try this again with our wonderful model, Annie.


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