Making choices

Every time you paint plein air you make choices. Frequently they turn out to be wrong. How do you deal with them?

In the belly of the whale, by Carol L. Douglas

When you are painting for fun, you have the luxury of scrubbing out bad ideas. When you’re painting in a competitive event, you have limited time. You need to find ways to fix the problems you create without starting again from scratch. Sometimes these are the most interesting paintings, if you don’t lose your nerve.

Yesterday, Bobbi Heathtook her oatmeal up on the roof. While she concentrated on her painting, a seagull stuck his beak through the lid and pulled it off. Evidently he didn’t like it, so he smeared it across the hot tub cover. That’s an example of a bad choice, one that seemed relatively innocuous but ended up making a big mess.
An evil, breakfast-poaching seagull (photo courtesy of Bobbi Heath).
I usually start field paintings with a sketch and value study. I find this saves me time over the long run. Occasionally, I throw out this standard practice and start by making a big abstraction on my canvas. I did that on Wednesday in my painting of Beach Haven. I then struggled to integrate the red umbrella on the bottom left.
The problem ended up creating a more dynamic painting than a more intellectual process would have. I liked it so much that I repeated the process with In the Belly of the Whaleyesterday. Again, I struggled with bits and pieces that kept sliding out of my compositional pocket. The resulting painting isn’t brilliantly drafted, but nobody could call it boring. I call that success.
A basic part of the boat-painting process is checking to see how long the captain plans to stay in harbor. I ask, but it’s not always infallible. Yesterday, I hollered down to my new deck-hand friend Brian to ask him how long F/V Captain John would be in her slip.
The ice guy was interesting but wouldn’t be a good subject for a plein air painting.
They would be in for several days, he told me. I set up to paint. However, I neglected to ask him whether they would be pulling down the dredging rig. It was the subject of my painting. Oops.
We all understand that it’s never a great idea to try something completely new at a competitive event, like pulling out a new medium you’ve never used before. Ignoring that rule, Kari Ganoung Ruiz decided to try out casein for the first time at Adirondack Plein Air. “I need better brushes, but it was pretty good,” she told me. Actually, the resulting miniature was inspired.
There are ergonomic issues, like bringing a board that is too big for your easel. I painted 14X18 this week, but my little aluminum contraption maxes out at 11X14. I just tied things down with a bungee cord and hoped for the best. That’s an error I need to fix before the next big wind, by building or buying a bigger box.
Rooftop Aerie, by Carol L. Douglas (sold).
Yesterday, I learned that it is foolish for women painters of a certain age to ask young, male deckhands for lunch recommendations. Our lunches were regrettably enormous and starchy.

Bobbi didn’t have her usual car, so we packed a lot of things in a Toyota RAV4. It’s a great little vehicle, but we had to make hard choices about what to bring. We were simultaneously rooting through masses of stuff and Mcgyveringsolutions for things we didn’t have.