Well, it’s been awhile, but here is a recent painting I completed from the Callaway Gardens plein air show last month out in Georgia. This 9x12 scene, “Along the Path” depicts one of their walking trails through the gardens of blooming azaleas. The color splash was a welcome sight amongst the invasion of Spring greens.
These very complex scenes provide an enjoyable challenge to plein air painting. The dappled light is constantly moving and colors can shift rapidly. With the maze of bushes and trees, It becomes essential to simplify and mass as much as possible. In fact, this entire painting is just an arrangement of massed objects, with relatively little detail. I tried as much as possible to see the simple shapes. Then when it comes together at the end, it feels busy but is still readable without depicting every flower or leaf.
The first thing I did was to break down the distance into three sections: foreground, mid-ground and background. I then determined where each object was and forced it into one of the three depths. This made the painting much simpler to decipher when it came to establishing my values and intensities. I sketched the scene in pencil and made notes to where I wanted the my shadows and lights on the pathway. Next I started in the foreground bushes and found a value and color note of the in-shadow greens. Once I had a note I liked, I expanded on the area by shifting the colors and temperatures, but not value. That “holds” those shadowed green masses forward and creates the feeling of “foreground”. The tree off to the right was also painted in that same value range, as was the two larger tree trunks on the left.
I moved to the mid-ground next which included all of the flowers and the green tree in the middle. I again tried to keep all of my values to fit into this section. It had to be less intense than anything in the foreground but leaving myself room for background values. The distant trees and water (background) were then painted into the open areas of the canvas. These were the coolest and grayest of the painting.
The pathway was painted last by comparing my values to the foliage next to it as it traveled back into space. I added a figure walking for a touch of the human element. The overall simplicities let the viewer fill in the gaps with their imagination, engaging them to take part in the work. Enjoy!