Monday, May 17, 2010


My Pleine Aire Painting

I hadn’t painted outdoors for almost 50 years. I never found the time outside very productive. I was always fighting the wind, bugs and shifting light. Still I recognized the value of observing real depth and true colors. So, when I saw a one day workshop, Painting Alla Prima, offered, I said why not? In truth it really was only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Perfect. I called and registered.

In preparation, I purchased a WalkStool and a couple of small canvases. The day before the workshop, I called to check on the teacher’s name and where we were to meet. I left my name and number for him to call. He called. He sounded young. Very young. Younger than my youngest son. Oh well, I like young people-had worked with them before retiring from my teaching days.

It was then that I learned that I was the only one who signed up for this workshop and would I mind if he brought his fiancee along. Hmmm, not what I expected, but it was a beautiful day and I really wanted to paint outdoors. OK. We arranged to meet at a local coffeehouse at 8:45.

At 9:20, after I had approached at least 2 young couples, asking if they were my teacher and his finacee, they arrived. They both were very young, about 22 or so. Of course, they needed to get coffee and something to eat. [I had had my breakfast at 6:00 a.m.].

He informed me that we were going to Wildwood Preserve in Harrisburg. I had never been there, so I was excited to see a new place. We discussed the route and agreed that going over the Harvey Taylor Bridge would be the best way to go from Market St. in Camp Hill. I was to follow them. Naturally, I thought that since they agreed to cross over the Harvey Taylor Bridge to Harrisburg from Camp Hill, that they actually knew how to get to the Harvey Taylor Bridge from Camp Hill. Foolish me.

Instead of going straight on 21st from the light on Market and 21st, which leads you directly to the Harvey Taylor Bridge, they turned right on to Market, went through Camp Hill, through Lemoyne, wound down toward the Market Street Bridge, along the river in Wormslyburg, then left, then right to an entrance on to the Harvey Taylor Bridge.

Around 10: a.m., we arrived at Wildwood Preserve. After a search for a visually interesting spot to paint, unloading the cars, carrying the supplies to the spot, setting up our easels and other supplies, we were ready to paint. I surveyed the area, plotted out my composition and loosely swooshed on my shapes, light, middle and dark areas. It was about this time [10:30ish] that the instructor discovered that he had left his paints at home. His fiancee and I offered the use of our acrylics, but he wanted his oils. He left to go home to get them.

About 11:30, he returned. He came over to see how I was progressing. I had my large areas blocked in with lights and darks. He liked that I had not used a pencil to draw in the shapes. Still at my side, I was about to block in the trees and some of the foreground when he, hesitantly, began to offer his approach to a painting. I was beginning to sense that he was not that thrilled with my beginnings. Okay, fine, I’m interested in his process and approach to a painting. Alla Prima I, belatedly learned, was a method whereby paint is applied quickly, in a direct, expressive manner. The painting would be completed on site in one session

Using his oils, he demonstrated applying a unifying color, red in this case, all over his canvas, thick and quick. Then he applied the colors of large areas over the red, letting some of the red show. Next he plopped in the some trees, etc. His brushstrokes were loose, the paint thick and the exposed red paint unified the composition . Very nice.

He then suggested I do the same-cover my existing painting with red paint and begin again. Naturally I was skeptical, explaining that, although he was familiar with his process and knew where to go once the red paint was applied, I did not know where to go. He persisted and said he wanted me to get out of my “comfort zone”. I said that at 69 years of age, I deserved to be in a “comfort zone”. He smiled [ he was very sweet]. I think he knew I was not annoyed just enjoying a fun moment with him.

I got out of my comfort zone and applied the red paint to my canvas and attempted to paint the rest of the scene, leaving some of the red showing--very Fauve-like. Now it was 12:00, lunchtime. I unpacked mine. They had none. I looked at them and said, “ The signup sheet said PACK A LUNCH” More smiles.
I resumed painting , but by this time, I had just about had it with the wind buffeting my canvas and tipping over my easel, the passers-by weaving around our easels and paints . The strong winds had turned cold and we[ the fiancee and I] were losing feeling in our hands.

Around 1:30, 3 hours after we had started painting, we packed up, walked back and loaded up the cars. We said our goodbyes and nice to have met yous. I went home, put my “out of the comfort zone” painting on my sturdy, studio easel, printed up the photos I took of the Wildwood scene for reference and resumed painting “alla prima” indoors.

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