Category Archives: Plein Aire

Urban Sketching

Well I am starting to get out and about in Portland.  I know I’ve lived here for almost a year so it’s sad it’s taken me this long to start exploring.

Bill Sharp sent me a notice that the Portland Urban Sketchers were meeting last weekend and I decided to head down to the river and try my hand at drawing in public.

The people were lovely, everyone meet, introduced themselves and then we all wandered off.  I was attracted to a midrise condo building that was on the adjacent to the I5 bridge crossing the Willamette.   I drew it in a way too light pencil and later went back in with a micron pen.

urban sketching


We all met back at 12ish and had a quick look at everyone’s work.  It was interesting seeing how different scenes spoke to each artist.  Many drew or painted the Hawthorne Bridge.  One lady did a watercolor of the same buildings I drew-I loved her painting…she really nailed it.

After meeting up the second time, we went and had a quick lunch.  I was fortunate enough to sit next to a lady named Rosa who allowed me to browse through her sketchbook.  It was filled with stamps/drawings from other artists as well has her own drawings.  She drew the Hawthorne bridge with a ballpoint pen and it was gorgeous!









Sunday Plein Aire, Attempt #4

Initial Picture of the House

Initial Picture

I went plein aire painting Sunday. I decided to paint a friend’s house in Old Town Alexandria. The sky was clear and the weather was cool – to- cold with quite a breeze at times. It was a gorgeous day to be outside.

The advantage to painting my friend’s house is that it’s one block off of the tourist area. There was foot traffic and quite a bit of road traffic but I was able to get quite a bit accomplished.

I do need to say that this is only my 4th plein aire painting, I learn a bit more each time I go out.

Most of my friends who paint have said painting outside is very similar to painting the figure.  You do initial sketch, very quickly get in your darks (very important since the light is constantly changing), do initial color lay down and then get to work.

House Sketch

House Sketch

I paid attention to the distance between the windows, where the shutters were as well as the dormers. I also lay in the first indication of the shadows on the roof. The color is raw umber thinned with gamsol. I used an 8×10″ oil primed linen canvas Mine were purchased from Raymar they are double oil primed linen).

I learned for my florist shop that painting a building full on didn’t help to make the painting interesting. That I should approach it from an angle. So I selected a spot about 30 degrees off from center. The view allowed me to include a pretty magnolia tree on the right side of the building. I included a small strip of the grey building next door. Frankly I am not certain that was wise but it helped me gauge what went were so in it stayed.

Initial Color Lay In

Initial Color Lay In

I used a thinned burnt sienna with some raw umber mixed in for the building, I darken the shadows with more raw umber, laid in the brick wall with burnt sienna and raw umber. The magnolia tree is all raw umber and the grey building to the left was created by mixing raw umber with ultramarine blue and white. The sky is a thinned cerulean blue.

It always amazes how bright a color will seem (especially on a white panel) when you first lay it down and then how quickly it quiets down. Seeming this has made me a little less nervous about color with the human figure.


House Painting About 60% Complete

So, the windows were blocked in with a dark grey using raw umber and ultramarine blue. Same for the black of the shutters. I had no idea how to translate the color of the roof. The shadows were a really rich dark and the roof was black to start with but with the intense sunlight on it it seems a brownish/greenish black. I left it as is.

My friend lives across the street from a large business building. When I first started painting I could not see the reflections of the building, I could later once the light changed. I found it interesting that I could see the reflections of the building in the photos I took with my camera but not with my eyes.

Finished House Painting

Finished House Painting

I am not certain if including this building in the reflections was wise, but it was there and since it’s part of their daily view I felt it helped keep the painting real (in context to the site). Ok, that sounded a tad stuffy but hopefully you understand what I mean.

Over all I think I did ok. I even snuck her cat into the picture which wasn’t accurate but I figured she’d love it. It’s pretty small so you wouldn’t see the cat unless you were looking for him.

Friday Night and Sunday Afternoon

Friday evening.  Once again I am taking figure and portrait painting again with artist Robert Liberace at the Art League in Alexandria, Virginia. The Friday evening was a great class.

Rob’s class in the evening has grown to the point where we now fill two classrooms.  I was pretty torn on which classroom to work in.  Both model’s were great and we had one for three poses and the other for two poses.  I opted to remain with John even though the model in the other room was dramatically lit.

Rob had us working on a grissaile underpainting.  Once the shadows were in, he had us take black, raw umber and mix it with some white.  The paint was not thick and of course not too thin.  I know that sounds like a bizarre description but it should be all paint, and you don’t want it runny.  He varied the amount of white to completely model the anatomy with the understanding that we would be ready to add very subtle color next class.

The Florist on Prince Street

The Florist on Prince Street

I ran in to some difficulties and I never really got to the black.umber/white stage.  I was ok with that since it’s better to make sure your shadows are completely accurate before moving on.

Sunday afternoon.

 I attempted plein aire painting again with my friends and their neighbor.  They set up on Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria VA and everyone was painting something different.  I chose to paint a pretty yellow flower shop and it was fun.  This picture was taken right as I quit painting so the shadows weren’t there when I started painting. I did so-so on the final result but I feel like at least I am improving.   One older man complimented me and told me plein airs were supposed to look primitive 😦

Florist on Prince Street

Florist on Prince Street

 The comments I received from folks passing by were interesting.  People I didn’t know would stop and say if they did or didn’t like the work; most are very encouraging and some were a tad smarmy.  The most interesting questions I had were from a 7 year old who felt I had too many colors (yellow, red, blue, umber and white) lol.  He was really interested in painting and it sounded like he had  a real interest in art, so I really tried to answer his questions seriously.

I didn’t like the finished painting there and it’s hanging and drying near my dinning area.  It still needs some work, but I happened to glance over at it this evening and I was surprised to see that it looks pretty from a distance (I am sitting about 10 feet away  from it right now and it looks fairly decent).  I will take a better photo of it and repost it later this week.

I learned that it’s a mistake to paint a building full on, kind of the same way that you’d want a sitter to be a three-quarters view versus full frontal when posing for a portrait.  My shadows and trees weren’t dark and I didn’t spend enough time on the building next to the florist (the lady who lived there was thrilled to see her house in a painting!).  I did ok editing some things out (cars some of the plants).  So I learned some but most importantly had fun.

My friend’s neighbor did her first ever oil painting and it was great!  We all had so much fun we decided to paint every Saturday while the weather holds.  I can’t wait.  Painting every day or every other day seems to be making a difference for me.

Second Plein Aire Attempt


Cloud inspiration

It was another lovely day. On the ride home there were these huge fluffy clouds (alto cumulus?) that looked like cotton candy. I decided I’d try and paint them.

These are the type of clouds you watched build all day in New Mexico during the summer. The kind of clouds that serve as oracles and reveal fantastical shapes and stories.

I love these kind of clouds (in spite of Joni Mitchell!).

Plein Air 18 September 2008

Plein Air 18 September 2008

So when I arrived at home I decided to paint them. Funny thing was they’ all drifted off and morphed into these slightly fluffy loose clouds. So I decided to paint them anyway.

I painted this on a 4×4″ toned gesso board. For some reason the cannon won’t take a good picture of this so I apologize in advance.

Although I was close to home it’s a totally valid plein aire since the mosquitos chewed on me nonstop.

The clouds rolled past and I did the best I could. There are magnolia trees to the right and I did what I could with them. I think it’s an improvement on the first plein aire and I think I nailed the roofline and the dormer. I wanted to paint a gorgeous loose cloud and I think I did ok.

Cloud Close Up

Cloud Close Up

Here is a close up of the clouds. I really liked how they turned out, but the colors kept changing.

I will try to retake these pictures under natural light once the paint dries a bit.

I also learned why some folks love and some hate winsor newton’s cremmitz

Totally off topic

Linked below is a youtube of Pavarotti and Bono singing Ave Maria (live) it’s actually wonderful.

While you’re at it check these next two out, talk about a great juxtaposition!

And finally, one of my favorite opera songs, (after Sull’Aria)