Tag Archives: contemporary impressionist

Plein air painting – oil and acrylics, tips and tricks Part III

Plein air painting on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Duck on a Rock is the name of the formation. It was very, very windy that morning so I had to secure the easel.

My last post about plein air painting addressed how to do watercolors.  In this final post, I will address how to do oils and / or acrylics.

There are many similarities with painting plein air in oil or acrylics. Same supports – panels or canvasses, same (similar) brushes, same easel, etc.  The biggest difference is that oils take a long time to dry and use some volatile chemicals, such as, mineral spirits.  Acrylics are painted with water and dry in less than fifteen minutes.  This makes a big difference if you are transporting the canvasses.  Oil painting will smear and get everywhere, whereas, acrylic paintings will dry quickly and be ready to transport within minutes.

Although I painted in oils for over a decade, now I do plein air painting almost exclusively in acrylics.  Mostly for the ease of transport and quick drying times.

This is a typical French easel. It is a wooden carry box and easel all together. These have been around for over 100 years. There is also another smaller French easel called a half-easel. Both weigh quite a bit and, in my opinion, not too comfortable to lug around.

As always, my main concern in plein air painting is weight and ease of transport.  There are many wonderful easels but the most common is the French easel which has been around for over 100 years.  There is also the half-box easel and new aluminum easels which help a bit with the weight.  Another option is the pochade box, either homemade or purchased.  It seems everyone is trying to get smaller and smaller.  I have a pochade box which is a beautiful piece of art furniture, but not really practical for my needs.  I never want to get it messed up!

This is a beautiful little pochade box, similar to the one that I have. It is so exquisitely made that I hate to get it dirty. One needs to use a camera tripod to attach to the bottom as it doesn’t come with legs. However, you can just set it on a table or bench to use. The one that I have will hold a canvas up to 16 x 20 but that is not very practical for this size.

As usual, my main concerns are with weight and portability.  I use another light weight aluminum easel (Stanrite 100) this one with spikes which fold out, but the whole thing collapses to about 25 inches.  That I carry in the same homemade carrier as my watercolor easel.  And another backpack devoted to acrylic (oil) painting.  For some reason, Stanrite quit making these easels but I expect that is mostly because they last so long.  You can probably find them on Ebay or one of the resale sites.

The typical gear that I take with me for acrylic painting. Backpack, selection of brushes and paints. portable travel palette, sketch book, panels and canvasses, gloves, water. Not shown would be a container for water. For oil paint, there would be two containers of mineral spirits and a portable oil paint palette.

Many of the items that I carry with me are the same, but some are devoted to acrylic painting.  Paints, types of brushes, larger water jar, rags, etc.  For oils that would be oil paints, brushes, and two jars of mineral spirits (one for cleaning brushes and one clean).  Backpacks are cheap so just keep one packed for each of the type of work you wish to do.  I have made separate lists for each type of plein air art activities that I do to remind myself what to take.

Easel

Chair / stool

Umbrella / bungees

Bag

Paper

Support

Clips

Acrylic travel palette (Mijello)

Or…oil travel palette

Brushes -assorted

Paints – assorted

Water and cup

Or Mineral spirits (two jars)

Spray bottle

Pencils/pens

Sketch book

Tape / clips

Multi-tool / pliers

Paper towels / cloth rags

Sponge

Bug spray

Sunscreen

Hat

Camera / cell phone

Apron

Scissors / knife

Snacks

Business cards

Some folding green stuff (money)

Bandaids

 

My backpack will hold canvasses or panels up to 11 x 14 inches.  Larger canvasses will have to be hand carried or strapped onto your pack.  When I travel, I will keep a plastic bin to contain all my canvasses.

These are the reminder cards that I keep in my kits. They remind me of what I need to take. I’ve used these kinds of cards for many things, vacations, camping, etc.

Most of the other equipment is the same as listed in my previous post about watercolor painting.  Bug spray is a must to ward off mosquitoes or biting flies.  I once had a guy who was hauling manure and (I think) deliberately let some out near where I was painting.  Bungees help to anchor your easel or attach an umbrella.  Very disappointing to return to your easel only to discover it face down in the weeds.  Oh, well, such is the life of the artist.

And, yes, it is OK to tweak your painting when you return to your studio. Yes, there are some purists who think that is awful, but, hey, it’s your art and you can do what you like!

The main thing is to relax, enjoy yourself and have fun. It’s not a competition; it’s an adventure.

This is what can happen when you don’t anchor your easel on a windy day.

Using my beautiful little pochade box.

On a bluff overlooking the White River in Loogootee, Indiana.

Italian Eating Italian: Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread Series

Italian Eating Italian – Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread Series. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30. Kit Miracle

Painting a portrait head on is a bit challenging.  However, the distinct lighting of this portrait helps define the features.  The painting has a very robust feeling; a man eating a piece of bread and drinking some vino.

Italian Eating Italian, detail, chin. Notice the reflective light on the chin and neck. Also notice that I rarely use a direct white paint. Most of my whites are mixed to add more vibrancy.

If you look carefully at the closeups, you can see that although I paint in a loose impressionistic style, the brush strokes are sure and vibrant.  I’ve been working with some colorful and contrasting lines which add a bit of spark to the painting.  The colorful outlines are not always related to the painting as far as contrasts go, but sometimes they are.

Italian Eating Italian, detail, hand and glass of wine. Here you see the wine glass, slight angle, gripped by the hand but all loosely painted.

Italian Eating Italian, detail. Hand with piece of bread. The challenge here was to paint a piece of rustic white bread against a white shirt.

This is another painting in the Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread Series.

Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread. A new series.

Alone. Intimate Spaces – Breaking Bread series. Acrylic on canvas. 30 x 24. Kit Miracle

A few weeks ago I showed some of the NOTAN studies for my next series of paintings.  If you recall, this is where the artist breaks the composition down to black and white abstract shapes.  This is the first painting in that new series.

Intimate Spaces, Breaking Bread is a rather ironic title for the series considering the times we are currently living in.  However, this series was planned out in December, long before we knew what the pandemic would do to our socializing.  No more public meals, family gatherings, etc.

So it only appropriate that the first painting is titled Alone.  The lone figure, distanced in the deserted restaurant.  The hard back lighting and reflections on the tables and chairs.  The even more ironic title of the sign inviting him to “Join” the team.  The painting evokes the feeling of loneliness, being alone, as in Hopper’s Nighthawks and some of his other paintings of solitary figures.  Even though there are some quite bright colors in the painting, the main palette is subdued, echoing the feeling of being alone.

Alone, NOTAN study. Although I don’t usually add middle tones to the NOTAN study, I did here to add more body to the image.

Alone. Charcoal sketch 24 x 18, Kit Miracle. Here I have added middle tones but it still keeps true to the basic NOTAN study.

Plein Air Painting – Tips and Tricks

Perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon. This was from 2011 but I went back to the same spot last year. Not much had changed.

I have been painting en plein air for many years.  This is just a fancy French term for outdoor painting. The practice has been around for a couple of centuries but the activity has really exploded in the past few decades.  There are magazines and organizations, contests and exhibits of plein air paintings all over the world.  This doesn’t even take into consideration the books, videos, YouTube, and other outlets for this art activity.

Turner, J.M.W.; Travelling watercolour box owned by J.M.W. Turner, R.A This little watercolor box is a couple of hundred years old.
Credit line: (c) Royal Academy of Arts

Over the years I’ve had many people say to me, I wish I could do that.  Well, I’m here to tell you that you can.  You just have to start.  This will be a three part post about helping you get over the hurdles and begin painting outdoors.  Today I’ll cover some of the basics, including equipment, drawing, where to go, etc.  Then the next  post will cover watercolor and the final post will add tips for acrylic or oil painting.

So let’s get started.

What kind of equipment do you need?

This can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  A sketchbook and a pencil or pen is a good place to start.  Just get used to carrying one with you all the time.  One of my favorites is a small hardback sketchbook (ProArt) which is only about 3.5 by 5 inches.  It’s small enough to fit in a purse or pocket.  I’ve used it on beaches and mountains, in museums, restaurants, and theatres.  (Not all plein air painting is done outdoors.)  It’s good practice to just to sketch.  It trains your eye to see.

From a simple sketchbook you can climb up to spending a whole lot of money on fancy easels and other equipment.  But you don’t have to and it won’t necessarily make you a better painter.

My personal philosophy is to keep my equipment portable and lightweight.  I currently keep a backpack or other carrying bag (purchased used at a resale shop) packed for each type of medium I use.  The messenger bag that I use for watercolor was $5 at St. Vincent de Paul.  The bag I use for acrylics or oils is an old backpack.  I even keep a backpack with gear for framing if I should be at a competition where I need to submit a framed painting.

I have a couple of lightweight aluminum easels, one for watercolors (it tilts) and the other for vertical works on canvas or board.  They have extendable legs and even have spikes which are handy for anchoring your easel.  But, you can use your lap, a rock or fence, or other handy surface to support your work.  You can even make your own.  (Check here for instructions from James Gurney.)  I carry my easels in a bag that I made from an old pair of jeans.  You can’t imagine where that bag has traveled.

A stool or portable chair is also handy.  It can get tiring standing for several hours and I’d rather be comfortable.

Painting at Jackson Lake, Wyoming. I was watching for bears but sure don’t know what I would have done if I saw one.

Cathedral Rock, Arizona.

Where should I paint?

Frankly, anywhere you want to.  If I don’t have much time, I’ll just go out in the yard and paint some flowers, or trees, or landscapes.  I’ve dragged my equipment all over the country and even to France.  I’ve even rigged up a way to pack it on my bicycle and travel with it.

I’ve done sketches leaning against a building in Times Square late at night, on the edge of the Grand Canyon, along beaches, in the woods.  One time I was even next to a railroad track when a train hammered through.  A little exciting, for sure.

Using the lift gate as an improvised shelter during a drizzle.

When should I paint?

That is a personal preference but I like early morning or late afternoon because of the dramatic shadows.  But if you only have a little time, then take what you have and find somewhere.  There will never be a perfect place.  But you will make it perfect by selecting the composition.

Weather can be a factor.  I have painted in the rain either under the gate of my car or under an overhanging porch.  If it’s windy, you definitely want to anchor your easel with some bungees and your backpack.  If you’re painting in the snow, take some hand-warmers, scarves, and a hot beverage.  You can even paint in your car and make your steering wheel into a prop for your work.

Painting with my friend Bill Whorrall. It’s interesting how two artists can paint the same subject at the same time but come up with totally different paintings.

Is it better to paint alone or with a group?

This is really personal preference.  I mostly paint alone more for my convenience than anything. But I know two ladies who have been painting together weekly for over forty years!  Some people enjoy the camaraderie of painting with a group or the excitement of a timed contest.  I just like to set my own pace without worrying about another person.  Except for my husband who enjoys fishing so we both get to do what we want together.

There is also the safety issue.  Being aware of your surroundings is always good, whether from beast or human or falling off a cliff.  Don’t do that! I’ve had both good and bad encounters with dogs.  One old guy just lay under my easel for the entire time I was painting.  A couple of others followed my bicycle looking at my leg like a steak.  Hot pepper spray has its uses.

The Saturday before Mother’s Day found me in the gardening department. The staff never bothered me but I did have someone come up and ask if I could help them. I was wearing my paint apron so they thought I worked there.

I’m embarrassed to have other people watch me while I work.  What do I do about gawkers?

People are naturally curious, especially about seeing an artist in the wild.  Most are very polite and won’t even interrupt you but just watch for a bit and move on.  I often use a set of earphones (listening to music or not).  Sometimes I’ll only unplug one ear as I answer their questions, then (while still holding the earpiece) kind of turn around.  They get the message and move on.  Other times, take the opportunity to talk with your audience.  Ask about the scene and what they know of the area.  Educate them on what you’re doing.  Maybe you’ll even sell your painting if the scene holds special meaning for them. Frankly, you’ll quickly become comfortable working in front of people.  Believe me.  Really!

Make lists.

I have lists made for each of the type of medium I plan to use for the day.  Although my bags are packed, invariably I will forget something if I don’t look at the list.  Do I have water for painting acrylic or watercolor …and a container.  One time I forgot my palette.  I improvised by using an extra canvas that I had with me.  Lists are just a nice way to relieve your brain from the last minute frantic packing and getting ready.  I’ll share my lists with you in my next post.

This is a long post but I hope it encourages you to get outdoors and do some artwork.

Back to the River

It’s still too early to do much planting although I have onions, snow peas, lettuce and kale growing. The garden is tilled but we have to wait another couple of weeks before planting the whole thing.  We’ve done some trimming and tidying of the flowerbeds.  The spring flowering shrubs are next.

Plein air painting along the Blue River in Southern Indiana. As you can see, my easel is actually sitting in the water. What we artists won’t do for our work!

Monday was beautiful and balmy.  A perfect day to return to the Blue River for some more adventures.  This time my husband brought his fishing gear and I brought my painting kit.  It was so peaceful and quiet.  A week since our last visit but I noticed changes.  The redbuds are waning and the dogwoods are coming out.

Blue River, plein air painting. Acrylic, 11 x 14. That spring green will only last for a few weeks.

Bridge over the Blue River. Watercolor / pen and ink. Kit Miracle Created from photos taken on our previous visit last week.

As you can see, I had to set my easel in the water to get the view that I wanted.  I nearly tipped in myself but this is the price an artist pays for the adventure of plein air painting.  My husband got his line wet but not much luck until right at the end when he caught a nice bass.  (He returned it to the river, of course.)

Fishing on the Blue River. My husband actually caught a nice bass but he released it. We peeled off our sweatshirts as the temps warmed up quickly. Spring is here!

Another wandering drive on the way home took us past a little greenhouse.  Of course we stopped.  Although we have some tomatoes and peppers started, I had to buy a few more.  Hey, it’s that time of year.  All you gardeners understand what I mean.  (BTW, I was the only one at the greenhouse wearing a mask!) Later in the week the mice in the greenhouse started nibbling the plants.  Dirty rottens!  I wouldn’t have thought they would like nightshade plants but now I know they do.

So, that’s pretty much my week.  Finished the plein air painting in the studio and did a watercolor/pen and ink of the bridge over the Blue.  Some gardening.  Reading.  Oh, and cleaning the attic of my studio but that’s another story.

NOTAN studies

Like nearly everyone else, my mind has been distracted with the current state of affairs in our nation, indeed, in our world. But I’ve cut back listening to the endless stream of news broadcasts which has helped bring some peace to my mental world.  This has allowed me to get back to my next series of paintings.  The theme of the series, which I planned out late last year, is Breaking Bread.  A bit ironic since we can’t go out right now, and only share meals with our own families or pets.  In this case I searched through hundreds (thousands?) of my photos from the past decade or more.

Italian Eating Italian. Charcoal sketch 18 x 24. Kit Miracle Again, the strong lighting is emphasized based on the NOTAN study but some middle tones have been included.

Italian Eating Italian, NOTAN study. As you can see, I’m playing around with the size and shape of the composition, square or rectangle?

The photos are taken in color but to distill them to their essence, I convert them to black and white, and then push the contrast of the black and white.  You can do this in person by squinting at your subject or using the red gel trick that I have discussed before.  I usually make quick NOTAN sketches when I’m out doing some plein air painting.

Alone, NOTAN study. Although I don’t usually add middle tones to the NOTAN study, I did here to add more body to the image.

Alone. Charcoal sketch 24 x 18, Kit Miracle. Here I have added middle tones but it still keeps true to the basic NOTAN study.

The whole idea of the NOTAN sketch is to find the best pattern for your subject.  Definitely not meant for every style of painting but very helpful to establish the overall effect.  As a rule, you will not want to have exactly the same amount of black and white areas in the NOTAN subject.  Also, look for pleasing patterns.  Don’t worry about details at this stage.  As you can see, the NOTAN subjects that I’ve created here are about 5 x 7 inches, made with a Flair pen and a black art marker.

Old Man, NOTAN studies. I did two studies of this subject. The top one is more detailed with three tones – white, black, and middle. The bottom image is a more traditional NOTAN study and is very abstract.

Old Man, charcoal, 18 x 24. I will probably simplify the background of this painting to match the NOTAN study. There’s a lot going on but I like the contrast of the horizontal and vertical shapes.

After I have created the NOTAN sketches, I then do a larger (18 x 24) charcoal sketch of the subject.  The NOTAN study helps keep me on track for the composition, but the charcoal sketch allows me to add some middle tones. Most of the NOTAN sketches only take about five minutes or less.  The charcoal sketches usually take 30 to 60 minutes.  I sometimes do more charcoal sketches of details or to try different compositions.

Late Night NOTAN. This is an example of extreme abstract shapes created by the NOTAN drawing. There’s a rhythm of ovals and rectangles within the picture plane.

Late Night, charcoal sketch 18 x 24. Kit Miracle. Although the oval shape in the foreground (back of a chair) captures the eye first, it is then directed to the group of teens in the right rear of the picture plane. The dark window provides a perfect foil for their shapes.

After these steps, I may do some color sketches but I always keep referring back to these black and white pieces when I’m working on the final painting.

Here are some links to previous postings about using NOTAN sketches for your work.

https://my90acres.com/artwork/wings-beach-painting-step-by-step/

https://my90acres.com/2019/02/17/little-stone-church-provence-demonstration-painting-from-photographs/

https://my90acres.com/2019/04/14/the-importance-of-preliminary-work/

Front Page!

Annie’s Room, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30. Kit Miracle

Woo Hoo!  I made the front page of the current edition of ArtistsCreating, A bi-monthly e-magazine for artists in southern Indiana.  There’s a feature article about  me inside, too.  Check it out here.

Download the FREE e-zine to see what else is happening in the area arts.  http://www.itsallart.com/AC.AprilMay.2020.pdf

February’s Art Production

February’s Art Production. The Food We Eat Series. Acrylic on canvas. Kit Miracle

I thought I’d do another post about a month’s art production.  I created ten food paintings for the series The Food We Eat.  I love the bright colors.  Most of the meals were at home but a few were while I was away. I really don’t eat out that often except when traveling.  Guess we like our own cooking best.

For those who may be interested, I am using my own photos for the paintings.  The pictures cover a span of over ten years so I have a good amount of inspiration.  They are not projected on the canvas but are drawn free-hand.  Dang, those circles and ellipses on the plates and glasses!  What a challenge!  And they’re all either 16 x 16 or 16 x 20 on canvas of 1.5 deep.

In addition to the food paintings, I did more tree drawings but they’re not shown here.

March will probably see some more food paintings but I think I’ll take a break.  I have other ideas rolling around.

The titles that you see here – reading top to bottom, left to right are:

  • Ahi Tuna
  • Raspberries and Oatmeal
  • Texas Tacos
  • Breakfast with Oranges
  • Lunch in Santa Fe
  • Leah’s Lunch
  • Good Lunch, Bad Lunch
  • Pie!
  • Hot Soup on a Cold Day
  • Holiday Meal

Each meal has a story which is on my website. Kitmiracle.com  You can click on the individual photos to see closeups of each painting.

One month’s art production

A composite of my January art production. Four watercolors, five sunflower paintings, six tree drawings and three paintings for my new series focusing on food.

Since I retired from being a director of a multi-discipline arts center a couple of years ago, people are always asking me, What are you doing with your time these days? Or Are you still painting?

Sheesh, I was an artist before I was nearly anything else.  Yes, I paint every day! That is really no exaggeration.  Sometimes I’ll take a day to just goof off, read a book or go do some other fun stuff.  Without guilt.

So I thought I’d look back at the month of January just to see how much art I really created for the month.  These are the stats.

Red Rock Cliffs at Zion National Park, watercolor / pen and ink, 9.5 x 13.5, Kit Miracle I don’t remember what is the name of this group of rocks (there are so many in the park) but I was attracted to the contrast of the sunlight and shadows.

Four watercolor / pen and ink travel paintings. These sell well in one of my online shops and they’re fun to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Rosemary’s Sunflowers, 20 x 16, acrylic on canvas, Kit Miracle. This bright painting is one of five sunflower paintings that I completed in January. Love the loose brushwork and dazzling colors.

Five sunflower paintings, all acrylic on canvas. Various sizes from 8 x 8 to 20 x 16.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maple, partial sketch. Faber Castell grey pens. 11 x 14, Kit Miracle. I first completed the whole tree, then decided to focus on this detail.

Six tree drawings. Trees are hard to do but winter is a great time to “see the bones.”  I thought I’d give myself a challenge of doing one tree per week.  We’ll see how that goes.

 

 

 

 

Room Service, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas. Kit Miracle As the name implies, this is a meal that I ate in my room on one of my many business trips, this time to Kansas City. I was attracted to the muted colors with a little dash of color for the main entree.

Three paintings in a new series called “The Food We Eat.” They will all be paintings of food, a very popular subject.  I just love the bright colors.  And the challenge.  I have thirty two paintings planned for this series.  Or at least until I get bored.

 

 

 

In addition, I have been designing new print-on-demand products for one of my Etsy shops.  So far, I’ve created about fifty.  There are so many ideas but time is limited.

The drawings are not for sale; just for practice.

And the food paintings will be saved for a group display.

Plus time spent updating websites, blog, and social media.

Lest you think that I spend all of my time in the studio, that is not the case.  I probably spend five or six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less.  It’s not work really.  I just get lost.

But, of course, January is a time of year with few garden demands.  Although I could probably spend some more time cleaning the attic or going to the gym.  But I’m happy.

And larger paintings require more time so not every month sees this kind of output.

But even when I was working full time, I was still able to squeeze in 15 to 20 hours a week in the studio.  I guess it’s just all about priorities.  Although I read a lot, I don’t watch much TV or waste too much time on social media.

If you want something bad enough, you’ll find the time.

Making temporary fixes to a painting

Far Horizons, original painting, acrylic on toned canvas, 20 x 24, Kit Miracle This is the original painting with portions of the toned canvas (raw sienna mostly) showing through as well as the original charcoal sketch on the canvas.

A few weeks ago I posted about changing the background of a painting.  I took a standard flower painting from a traditional dark background to a colorful reddish-orange background to a mixed background.  Someone asked me if I made the changes on the actual painting.  Yes, I did.  I like the painting but I’ve long passed the point of where every one is precious to me.  As the artiste, I feel it is my right to paint how I wish and what I wish.

However, I’m going to show you a neat little trick which will allow you to make temporary changes to a painting.  Here you can try out new ideas, new approaches without making permanent changes.

I have a large roll of acetate film which I used to use for wrapping large matted but not framed paintings, particularly watercolors.  This kept the paintings clean and protected them from fingerprint smudges and other dirt.  Great to use in art bins or wherever you want to display your work in public. You can buy acetate in rolls or sheets.

The painting that I’m demonstrating with is titled Far Horizons.  It shows my granddaughter looking out over the Grand Canyon. Not only does the painting depict the distant views of the Grand Canyon, but the deeper meaning of a young girl looking out to the future.

Although I love the composition of the painting, it somehow didn’t seem to give the impression of really far horizons, as anyone who has visited the great canyon can attest.  So I wanted to try to lighten the background as a test.

Far Horizons, 1st step. A clear acetate sheet has been taped over the canvas. No painting has been done on the acetate yet.

First, I cut a large piece of acetate and taped it to the painting.  Then just started loosely painting over the acetate with acrylic.  I lightened both the distant sky, and made many changes to the rocks with lighter colors.  I even added some more highlights to the girl’s hair and jacket.

Far Horizons, 2nd step. Here you see that I started with the sky and have been painting directly on the acetate sheet. The whole idea is to test out some lighter background colors in order to push it back.

Detail of step 2 showing some loose strokes of lighter colors.

Far Horizons, final step of the acetate painting over the original painting. I even touched up the highlights of the girl’s hair and jacket.

This is the actual painting on the acetate. I’ve put a plain piece of toned paper behind it to better show you the actual painting.

I plan to set the painting aside in order to evaluate whether I want to make any of these changes permanent.  If not, I haven’t done any damage to the original painting and can leave it just the way it is.

This technique works well for both acrylic and oil painting.