I hadn’t planned to paint outdoors today, but the clouds suddenly parted in the afternoon, and I rushed outside. I stood on Butler Road in Bethesda and saw this rooftop overlooking nearby River Road. I was most interested in the late-afternoon light on the walls of the buildings.
I returned to the Bethesda intersection I inhabited a few days ago, but this time I painted a different corner cafe — Bacchus of Lebanon, on Norfolk Avenue. I stupidly knocked over my easel several times, and the third time I lost my favorite brush down a storm drain — arrrrgh! It was a No. 7 Eclipse long-handle flat from Rosemary Co. That brush and I have been through a lot of paintings together. It put me in a grumpy mood. (It didn’t help when a passerby sought to reassure me that the brush would make good gnawing material for the local rats.)
I still managed a respectable painting. The idea was to showcase the umbrella and its strange jungle of plants, juxtaposed with urban features like street signs and garbage cans. But if I paint this scene again, I might try leaving out the plants for a simpler composition. Also, I forgot to put flowers in the flower pots! I thought of it after the sun was already setting, and I could no longer see anything. :) I might add them tomorrow.
Cityscapes are still, for me, the final frontier of plein air painting: challenging but exciting. Here I tried to get the feel of a corner cafe, on Norfolk Street in Bethesda, and its surroundings. At first I had a clean image of the sign and front window of the cafe, but I didn’t like it and wiped it out, and never got around to restating it before sunset. I still learned a fair bit from this tiny (6” x 8”) study.
I set up across from Tia Queta, a charming Mexican restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, and a family-owned business. As usual, passersby stopped by my easel to chat, and more than one emphasized how nice the owner of the restaurant is.
Sure enough, the owner, Roberto, sauntered by to see what I was up to. He was indeed a delightful guy! He offered to move his truck -- that's it in the painting -- but I liked the truck and encouraged him to leave it there. In fact, the truck was probably the most successful part of the painting! I’m out of practice with plein air, having hibernated all winter, and I’d forgotten how fast the light changes — and how challenging it is to draw complicated architecture in an hour or so. I didn't get a great photo before delivering the painting, plus I wasn’t happy with my incomplete roof, so the top and side of this image are both cropped a bit.
Roberto liked my effort, flaws and all, so I gave him the painting, and in exchange he treated me and my family to a free dinner — a very generous gesture! The food was terrific. I highly recommend the tamales. We will go back soon and pay full fare.
Bethesda Lane is a lovely pedestrian mall sandwiched between two busy streets in downtown Bethesda. Its defining feature is this graceful arch. People come to eat at the various outdoor cafes or just to sit and relax.
Last week I did a watercolor study at this spot, and today I returned to try my luck with oils. I had an easier time drawing the scene this time, and I was happy to get some people into the action. Unfortunately it was rather a dreary day, and the lighting conditions weren't great. I'd like to return one more time to try to capture more vibrant colors. I love this spot, so I shall return!
I took my sketchbook, fountain pens, gouache and water brushes to Bethesda Row today to sketch for a couple hours. I did this first drawing mostly with water-soluble ink and water, though I did add a little background greenery in gouache. I could have added much more detail everywhere, but I decided to leave it as is.
I then wandered over to the pedestrian mall across the street, which looks through an arch at the Apple store on Bethesda Avenue. I've always wanted to draw this arch! I drew the outlines with water-proof ink in a fountain pen with a fine nib, and I added color with gouache (opaque watercolor). Fun!
Mon Ami Gabi is a lovely French bistro in restaurant row in Bethesda, Maryland. It's very popular at holiday time, with its festive lights and cheery interior. As I was painting, a waiter reported for work in his white top and black pants and shoes, and I just had to add him to the picture. I'd been planning to add a passerby, but the waiter was a gift!
I tried to paint a bit more loosely here. I made myself use mostly big brushes -- size 12 and 10 flats, for you art geeks out there. Big brushes force you to focus on big shapes at first instead of getting caught up in detail. Detail is great, but if you don't get the big shapes right first, the details will inevitably wind up in the wrong place. Also, big brushes speed things along. My grand plan is to paint larger works outdoors, and to do that, I need to cover the surface faster.
Also, it's a treat to paint plein air in December! Here's hoping for more good weather. But this year I'm also determined to get outside more even when it's cold and snowy. Please remind me about that when I start wimping out.