Large canvas en plein air -thoughts

First time painting on a big canvas in oil paint outside!

Weather: heavy grey sky to begin, very windy, stormy, then oncoming rain, then rain stopped and intense grey clouds behind me, blue skies and sunset clouds beginning to appear in front of me – unpredictable weather!

I used only titanium white and ivory black, and no medium.
The reason I thought I shoudn’t use a medium was that these greyscale paintings are about texture, and I didn’t want the medium to affect the paint so that the texture wasn’t evident. I liked the idea of thick paint with brushy marks that have a clear gestural direction.
In retrospect this was a mistake because it meant I was battling with the paint from the very beginning, and the textures of the painting were all a bit samey.

I picked a spot in the woods that I have never painted or sketched in before. I had great big beech trees to one side, but not my main focus, which I usually do. I made sure I was fully surrounded by trees.

I like the painting at this stage. You can see I am immediately drawn to the movement in the tops of the trees due to the wind. It is also evident that I am battling with the paint a little. Because I am working without a medium the paint is very thick and dry. I have to apply a lot of it to achieve good textures, but then of course I know later on in the painting I will be going over those marks and battling with them.

I liked the painting at this stage. Especially the marks up top were full of the stormy energy that the trees had to me. Covering up the bottom 2/3 of the painting at this stage:

The camera has blurred the brush marks some.

This top 1/3 of the canvas has depth and a structural quality. The paint has been applied thickly and with clear tonal differences between brush marks. These two traits are evidently what make this top half successful.
The bottom 2/3 of the painting at this stage look like this:

Pretty flat. I really wasn’t very interested in this part of the painting. The focus for me was on the tops of the trees and the way they were moving.
But I felt I had to record this part of the landscape anyway, so I made some marks without much feeling attached and this was the result.
The block of paint I applied look so flat and this is the issue with this part of the painting.
What I have learnt from this painting is that I don’t need to paint an area of the woodland if it’s not jumping out at me. What could have done was paint a few marks for anything that vaguely got my attention in a neutral grey, thinned to be a background mark. And then put marks over the top that describe the parts of the landscape that did capture me.
I am realising I don’t have to paint the landscape in a traditional sense: land, horizon, , trunks of trees, canopy. If yesterday the tops of the trees were capturing me, then I could have filled more of the canvas with that!
If I don’t hold myself to the convention that the painting needs to be of some framework composition then I can let my responses happen more naturally and I hope new compositions will happen.
The possibility of this is that my paintings will no longer all have the same ratio:

They could be lots of the ground, or all of the sky, or anything in between.

I think I was doing using this ratio framework subconsciously. I was intending for the abstract painting to look like a landscape, so it made sense to me to use this framework to describe that.

But now I think I am braver and can break out of that ratio framework and see what the outcome is. It could really diversify my painting!

Back to the plein air painting proccess: !

The finished plein air painting.

At the end of the process and I took a massive brush with dried paint on it and made marks on the surface. This was Gerhard Richter inspired; a way of making marks that are semi transparent without applying more paint.

This worked well here:

Adding energy and cool semi-transparency.

But it didn’t work well here:

It’s a really strong mark, and just too much for me! Calmeth downeth next time.


Perhaps this painting will grow on me with time. But I think the composition learning above is important and thanks to this painting!

Now I have to wait until it dries so that I can start glaaazzzing. Yessss. My plans for glazing are to try painting in a block of light type thing, as well as glazing to give individual brushstrokes / areas colour. It’s going to be a big learning curve!
I think I should design the block of light on photoshop first.

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