Sunday, June 23, 2013

Plein Air Colored Pencil Painting - On The James River

A week ago Richmond had it's second Plein Air Event sponsored by Brazier's Gallery 
on West Main Street.  Nationally known artists from around the country and locally competed in an week of plein air painting with the beneficiary our local Richmond Symphony.  Having participated in a past Richmond Symphony fundraiser and as an ex flute and piccolo player, it's a great group to support.  Two of my friends and I went down for the Fast and Fresh painting on Sat. morning where artists where set up on Monument Ave. in various locations to paint from 9am to 11am, with a judging and sale afterwards.  I have to tell you I met some plein air painters I had only read about in Plein Air Magazine, I was a groupie for sure.  Oil, watercolor, pastel and acrylic all media represented except my beloved CP.  But what this morning out had accomplished was just what I had hoped it to, inspire and motivate my two friends to try plein air working for the first time.  Resulting our plan to do so this last Thursday.  

 On June the 20th my two art friends and I,  plein air painted at James River Park in Chesterfield County, VA.  I of course worked in Colored Pencil while the other two worked in oil and acrylic.   Working with other painters is not new to me as I am often the only one working in colored pencil.  My usual goal when working outdoors with painters is to accomplish as much as possible in the same amount of time as they are willing to work onsite.  My slower to develop media means I'm usually the last to leave with less accomplished.  I accept that fact and by now I have learned to set a few goals for myself for each outing.  This time the goals were to get as much done faster than I have ever done in the past and to get a good feeling of atmospheric perspective.  I worked on an 8 X 10 hardboard that I had primed a while ago, a pale greyblue color with Colorfix's Blue Haze Primer, creating a sanded surface.  It seemed the perfect color to work fast and fresh on my own (see reference to the plein air event above). 
Above is the cropped view of my photo taken before I started. 

After scouting out a location at the park with a view of the James (which was very muddy after some thunderstorms the night before). We set out to work, my friends for the first time ever working plein air.  I thought to myself, "if it's their first time then I just may be able to accomplish a lot this time".  I usually work on white Ampersand Pastelboard (my favorite because of the ability to get truly light - lights) colored pencil being a translucent media.  This meaning the blue under-color of my primed board will show thru and change my hues and brightness.  On this bright and relatively cool June day I would be able to work more quickly not starting with a white surface.  Here is what I was able to    

accomplished in a 3 hour period of time (above).  Now this photo turned out a little more warm in tone than the second one to the right, not sure why.  The right one is also a bit bluer than the original due to my great photography skills, not sure why either.  ARGGG.  After arriving home and a quick bite to eat a late lunch, I took the above photo and sat down to work less than 30 more minutes on tweaks and missing info like: the ripples in the water and deepening the tones a little.   Really, I only worked a short time on this.  You will notice I added a smaller version of a tree on the on site photo to the lower left foreground, to point your eye into the painting a bit more.  Not sure if I like it but it's there to stay.   

What I learned this outing:
 #1 You cannot use watercolor pencils for an underpainting on the Colorfix primed surface, it will lay down well but when hit with water the color beads up on the surface and does not sink in like it does on the Ampersand Pastelboard I usually use.  When I have worked on the pastelboard I work 5 X 7 but this blue primed sanded surface allowed me to work 8 X 10 and get a lot done.  However it would have been faster if I could have underpainted with the WC CP's.  With this subject matter the blue hue of the board did not impact the overall tone much.
#2 Working with inexperienced plein air friends allows me time to get more done, thanks Kathy and Suzanne for trying this with me.  Next we are off to Suzanne's.

#3  There's nothing like getting out to see other professional artists plein air paint to get the inspiration juices flowing.

#4  I have great friends who will accompany me to paint plein air and to go out of their comfort zone and try new things.   

So everyone get out there and do some sketching, painting, observing.  Whether it's fast and fresh,  or as slow as CP we all can benefit from working outdoors.  First time or not we all have something to learn.  I'm already contemplating my next plein air goal in colored pencil.  Have a colorful day!



  1. I have just started using colored pencil after not drawing for about 30 years or so. I don't know anything about it but I have one illustration done but it doesn't have the contrast or punch I want. I left the main figure in the foreground with a face drawn in graphite only. The rest of the drawing is a mix of graphite and colored pencil. Would adding black accents somewhere make the drawing "pop" more. It seems like much of it might be in the same value. Also what pencils do you like to use. I have some Prismacolor, Berol Colorific (which might be my kids pencils like the Pedigree ones I have as well), I purchased a battery-operated eraser which I have not used and some rubber cement thinner. I could use any advice. Thanks.

    1. Hi Roxanne, I really do not like to mix graphite and CP much as it seems to dirty/gray out the colors, taking away the punch of color I so love with CP's. It kind of muddies thing up a bit. Having a wide range of values makes a piece Pop as you say. Also a saturation of color, by many payers and blending. Not having seen you piece it's hard to give you specifics. I love Prismacolors due to their wax base, it allows me to blend more easily. The other brands you mention are I believe student grade, and not artist quality pigments. Again color results are less Pop like if the pigments are not higher grade. I never use solvent as I am sensitive to the product and do not find a need for it. Keep your pencils very sharp! To eliminate paper speckle.


I always like to hear what you think or answer questions so make a comment and let"s chat!

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