Thursday, September 3, 2020

Finishing Touches on Plein Air Colored Pencil Pieces - "Old And New River Birch-Shirley Plantation Winery"

Trying to get your creative groove back during a pandemic involves a lot of experimentation.  What inspires and what needs to be completed fight the usual battle when you are your own boss.  I won't necessarily say it's a fair fight cause after all we are creatives right!  Often what inspires often wins the war.  However this time the "what needs to be completed" won out!  Today I'm sharing a trick I use to make it a more fair fight.  

Old And New River Birch - Shirley Plantation 8 X10 Colored Pencil on Ampersand Pastelboard
(A Plein Air start and studio finish.)

The recently finished painting above began life on a Plein Air painting excursion (pre-pandemic) two years ago with the gallery I show at and it's other painters.  Off to the James River plantation area in VA.  We set up at the Upper Shirley Plantation Vineyard for a paint out and subsequent exhibit to benefit the Rice Rivers Center of VCU.  The Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Rivers Center is a leading authority on river research focused on expanding environmental knowledge and preserving the health of our natural resources.Located on 494 acres along the historic James River, midway between Richmond and Williamsburg, Virginia,     

If your new here or to colored pencil work in general, it is a slow media and not one many use for plein air painting!  While I have finished several Plein Air pieces on site, I may need two days on location to finish or need just a little work at home after a long day on site.  This day was early Spring and cold winds off the James were brisk that morning!  There were many onlookers enjoying the day as it warmed up, with wine in hand.  And I always enjoy talking with folks.  Although it does slow my process even more.  

This location was just out back of the winery and restaurant along the banks above the river edge.  What drew me to the spot was the early morning light hitting the bark on these two River birch. One strong and youthfully sprouting tiny new leaves and the other much older and slow to leaf out!  The younger tree was in the brighter light of a springtime sun.  The older shadowed by a much taller tree out of view and competing with other plants and greenery for its place.  

If you know me, you know I love trees, and have been accumulating a series of tree paintings, sketches and so many reference photos..............If I'm out and looking for something to sketch I usually find it in a tree.  Plein Air pieces are like the sketches in my journals, they write the story of what inspires me to create a painting.  I absorb the temperature, observe the atmosphere, and just plain get lost in their branches. It's one of the best ways to really get to know a place or a tree for that matter!

OK now for the trick I mentioned above for getting paintings completed when they have lost their sparkle or inspirational vibe.  But first a little history: 

As we grow up and develop our own way of fitting into the world and becoming a productive adult - we learn or develop coping mechanisms for getting things done when we loose the "fun" bit pushing us thru to completion.  Cleaning your room or eating your vegetables before dessert come to mind.  

It could be having grown up the people pleaser I inherently became (no judgement here please).  Or possibly it's the "I'll show you" attitude I have when told I can't do something.  I prefer the later.  What resulted from an older sibling telling me as a 10 year old "You never finish anything you start".  I now have a monkey on my shoulder when I don't complete a task.  

Unfinished paintings that I either loose interest in (which is rare) or Plein Air work when time runs out and weather conditions change, sometimes make their way to a short pile in my studio.  As a compulsive list maker,  I add a new line to my Excel spreadsheet for my Art Inventory List when I start a new piece.  I number all my works at that point and dedicate a line to it's place in production/completion.  Sometimes it has no title but I know the size, substrate and genre it is.   Just like any good list maker, the check off is the reward - and for my inventory sheet it's the "Completed Date" column I use as my check off reward!  

As a result either "the pile" or every time I look at my Inventory spreadsheet I'm reminded of what's not yet completed.  Simple tasks like switching out my work in a gallery or show exhibit requires my making changes to the "Current Location" column, I'm reminded.  I guess I'll have to do a separate post on my spreadsheet if folks are interested so please comment below if you would like to see it or know more.  

None the less an artist needs to have an inventory list for their work.  You will forget titles, sizes, prices, how it's framed and of course the ever important "where it is" or "what show has it been entered in?" If your just starting out create one - if not on your computer grab a notebook and write it down!  You will forget trust me it's just like the mystery Tupperware container/science project in your frig.  You'll forget. 

Ok off my soapbox!  

Back to the trick I use to get to finishing a piece:  

When I'm stymied and I feel a need to complete a piece, I go back through my photos taken while on site.  If it's a plein air painting waiting to be finished, resetting the stage in my mind helps. Sometimes when flipping through my sketchbook or travel journal I stubble upon the page where I noted the day, lighting conditions and location.  Since I've spoken about journaling and it's importance in my life on posts before I won't go into it now. But if you're new to the blog you can find a few here and here

Any sketch I do, helps write it's story into my memory so much more than a simple photo shot could.  And all I need sometimes is a reminder to pull it back from the abyss of incompletion.  The really seeing a place or object in that place comes from having drawn it. 

"I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen"

Frederick Franck (1909 - 2006) Dutch American sculptor

Enjoy completion, it checks off an item on your list, it rewards your total paintings finished goal as well as you get to revisit a moment that was special in your life of days. 

Gloria Callahan

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