So how did you spend your Saturday morning? I finally figured out how to do my first FAVE outdoor painting. I'm going to coin this new painting term, FAVE, because I haven't seen anyone mention it to condense all the key components of painting. F=focal point; A=atmosphere, V=values, E=edges.
I have collected, studied, and accumulated every book, magazine article, and YouTube how-to video about oil painting. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the different techniques, tips, and ways each teacher does a painting.
But today's painting shows dramatic progress from my first outdoor painting earlier in the week with Plein Air Painters of the Bluegrass. That first painting never moved from the ugly stage, but it did not discourage me one bit. I'm not in a competition and comparing myself to these other professional painters who have devoted their life to this would be foolish.
Instead, I learned exactly what I could do differently. Today's painting was outdoors, by myself, at Cove Springs in Frankfort. This fantastic nature preserve, with multiple hiking trails, is only 15 minutes from home.
Here's what worked and how I made it my FAVE.
For the first time ever, I went straight to the focal point (F), laying in the correct color and value from the first brush strokes. I then began working out in all directions from that point in specific, bold, intended brush strokes.
The base of the tree, half-smothered in water, is close to the darkest value in the painting. It also casts an interesting shadow in the foreground water, which is very dark. As I worked out from this focal point, I could lay down the stones on the bank to the left of the tree and immediately figure out where the left edge of the canvas panel was going to be in this scene.
I also measured from the tree to the right to position the darkest values of the rock and water. This allowed me to find the distant bank and where it ended to the right edge.
Now I knew where all that mass of green in the background was going to fade and disappear in the rest of the painting because all the other masses were known going right and left, back and forth from the focal point.
That brings me to (A) for atmosphere. I am really challenged by all the green in a spring landscape. I had to figure out light and shadows of green and concentrate on making that green duller, grayer, bluer in the distance to give the impression of distance or atmospheric perspective. This is somewhat of an exaggeration, because to the eye, everything appeared green in the early morning sun that was dappling through the leaves.
(V)alues were always a part of my thinking as I mixed colors on the palette, thinking about the lights and darks with each stroke I made.
(E)dges were the last thing I worried about, smoothing out the harsh differences of each horizontal stroke for the water, especially on the left and right edges of the painting in the foreground. I did the same with the bank and some of the foliage so that no attention was taken away from the focal point.
I have saved the best for last, at least as far as what I learned and how I have progressed from just a few days ago and that first outdoor painting. I completed this painting in one hour. I was planning on three hours, but I didn't need the time and thought I would get too fussy if I kept working on more details.
I also had no fear or inhibition about the people walking by on the trail. I overcame that after surviving the biggest fear of all, being surrounded by professional painters who do this for a living and all kindly encouraged me by saying they all started the same way.
The other reward came when a nice woman on the trail asked to take my picture so she could show the painting, the scene and me. Then she asked if I sell any of my work and where she could find it.
"No. I'm still practicing," was my answer.
This thought of practicing, not trying to make a finished or perfect painting, is probably why I worked so freely. I did not fuss or fiddle. Brush strokes were made cleanly and deliberately. I did not blend. I got the cleanest colors for the brightest of the ripples and waterfall with a palette knife.
I hope the cliche comes true some day that "practice makes perfect."