Saturday, October 29, 2011

Locke, California Plein Air Trip - Overcoming Plein Air Overwhelm - Part II

Another challenge that Locke poses is the many angles of the buildings. I actually found myself getting lost in all of the angles. I had the same experience the first time I tried painting in Locke. Fortunately, when I yelled out for help, Martha Esch, one of the resident artists came to my rescue. She coached me on how to use my brush to check the angle. What you do is hold the brush out in front of your chest at arm’s length with the handle parallel to the ground. Then, you raise the brush (keeping it horizontal) to the item (which could be a beam, a rooftop, a window or anything) and the horizontal brush handle provides a reference against which you can determine which way (up or down, left or right). It took a few tries, but after a while, it became easier. A big thanks goes to Martha Esch.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Locke, California Plein Air Trip - Overcoming Plein Air Overwhelm - Part I

The tiny town of Locke, located in the Sacramento Delta, just South of Sacramento, California is one of my favorite places to do plein air painting (i.e., painting outdoors). Locke’s main street is flanked by rows of two-story houses that are more than 100 years old. Many of them are buckling and leaning into the street. The town is full of character and characters. Yes, that’s right - characters. Also, several artists live there and they are very welcoming of visitors. If you love to paint architecture, especially buildings with character, this is a great place.  

One challenge an artist may face when painting plein air is not getting overwhelmed by the vast amount of visual information from which you can choose a scene.  Two tools an artist can use to overcome this challenge are a viewfinder and a digital camera. The viewfinder is a small frame through which you look to isolate a smaller subject in your field of vision. In my case, I have two viewfinders, one that is 2x3 inches and the other that is 5x7 inch frame cut from cardboard. You can make your own like mine, or you can buy a matte at the art store. There is also red cellophane over the 5x7 matt that helps me to read the values (i.e., lights and darks) in the scene. Taking pictures with a digital camera can also help to isolate an area. If your digital camera has a black and white setting, you can use that setting to isolate your values.
The Sacramento Plein Air Painters group meets in Locke occasionally (and usually on the first Saturday of each month). You can sign up for this group by going to and joining the Sacramento Plein Air Painters group.
 More on lessons learned in Locke coming soon.