After yesterday's trail, I wanted something more urban. I tried to use the telephone poles to lead the eye into the distance. In fact I initially thought I'd make the first pole the center of interest, but I was seduced by the intense light on the orange-red storage unit. If I do the scene again, I’ll try toning that down.
I spent the afternoon painting this pleasant view of Cordell Avenue in Bethesda, Maryland. Cityscapes are, for me, the most challenging form of plein air painting. First, you’ve got to get your perspective right. Second, it’s a drawing challenge: there are lots of machine-tooled, symmetrical objects with sharp edges and perfect corners (buildings, cars, windows), and it takes lots of concentration to draw them correctly. Third, composition is a challenge: how do you pick a focal point when there are so many interesting things to see? Fourth, there’s a ton of detail, and even if you omit 80% of it, there’s still a ton of detail. But the upside is that it’s never boring, and I never lack for company — well-wishers stop by my easel all day long.
I wanted to practice painting cars today, so I parked myself at the local supermarket. I was counting on shoppers taking 45 minutes to get groceries. Instead, most cars stayed for 10 minutes, or so it seemed! The result is an unfinished painting, unfortunately. Plus I took a terrible photo!
Next time I’ll try sketching in the shape of the entire mass of cars, then moving to individual cars, rather than the other way around. I’m still not sure whether to work from back to front or vice-versa.
I started this study in the early evening. My idea here was to focus attention on the cars, and I had some success depicting a couple of them. But they all were moved in the hour or so I was standing there, so I didn’t finish any of them. On top of that, I didn’t make clear that the building on the right is a repair shop, and the sun went down so fast that I didn’t have time to fix it. So the title of the painting is all too apt: it’s waiting for repairs!
It was our first nice fall day of the year, or so it seemed, so I finally got a chance to search for some fall colors to paint. I found some muted ones on Norfolk Street, in Bethesda. My ink sketch was promising, but I dithered too long with the oil painting, and by the time I had settled on a composition, everything was basically in shadow. It’s a lot easier to convey form when things have both a light side and a shadow side! So this is one case in which I prefer my 5-minute sketch to my 3-hour painting.
Today I started drawing and painting Wisconsin Avenue looking south toward Chevy Chase Acura and downtown Bethesda. Here’s the oil painting, still in its early stages:
And here’s the preliminary sketch I did, in black carbon ink and purple water-soluble ink. I hope to return over the next few days, but parking is difficult there during the week, so I may not finish this for a while!
Today I did some urban sketches at two markets in Washington, DC. The first is a neighborhood store called the Broad Branch Market, on Broad Branch Street, NW. A good friend recommended it, and I'm glad she did! I was struck by the friendliness of the place. The customers all seemed to know each other, and several ate snacks on picnic benches in front of the shop. Teenagers hung out with friends, and parents brought kids to the soda fountain and deli. This isn't my best drawing because I was struggling to adjust to a new fountain pen, but I still like it.
I then went to check out another recommendation, the Circle Yoga building, but I had trouble finding a spot with a good vantage point. Instead I sat in my car at the parking lot behind Magruder's liquor store and sketched that. I was struck by how quickly patrons arrived, purchased, and departed. There was little of the interaction I saw at the Broad Branch Market. I suppose you don't go to a liquor store to socialize. I freely admit I bungled the lettering on this one! I was going to paint over it with gouache but didn't get around to it.
The rain held off today, and I managed to get in 2-3 hours of plein air painting. I'm really out of practice, as I've been doing mostly pen-and-ink and watercolor work for the past month, since I can do those things indoors (away from all the rain!). So I set my expectations low and resolved to do a loose urban sketch.
The painting depicts the Friendship Heights metro stop on the DC-Maryland border. I was most interested in the area on the left, and I should've zoomed the picture in more on that; I didn't spend much time at all on the right half of the painting. I still like it.
It was cold here today, but I saw this car-truck parked outside my local pharmacy, and I just had to paint it. I knew the clock was ticking because my hands were cold, and the skies were threatening a cold rain. So I made myself paint loosely. I'm glad I did: I got some of the painterly look I was going for.
Unfortunately, it did start to rain after about an hour, and by then my hands were really freezing -- even though I had them in thin plastic gloves. Even if I could've toughed it out, the truck driver suddenly appeared and fired up the engine. I rushed over to show him my painting. He seemed kind of unimpressed. "Aquarella?", he asked in Spanish. (Watercolor?) Nope -- oil, heh.
Anyway, it all ended abruptly -- I didn't even get to put in any tail lights -- but I like what I got on the canvas.
I was interested in the late-afternoon light at the end of this street. I wanted a feeling of a little light cutting into a lot of shadow. The time constraints forced me to sketch in the background quickly, with soft edges. It turned out kind of cool!
The Washington area features all sorts of streets with distinctive names: Democracy Boulevard, Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue, and the avenues named after states -- Wisconsin Avenue, Hawaii Avenue, Michigan Avenue, and so forth. But until today I didn't realize there is also a Friendship Boulevard, located (appropriately enough) in Friendship Heights. There are a number of Slavic places named Druzhba ("friendship"), but I don't know if I've ever encountered a Friendship street in the United States.
Anyway, Friendship Boulevard lived up to its name today! All sorts of friendly people stopped by my easel to chat. Kids always like to talk about painting, but plenty of adults came by too. Back when I started painting plein air, I was nervous about onlookers, but now I welcome them. Partly this is because I've grown more comfortable painting outdoors, and I'm proud of much of my plein air work. But even if the painting isn't going well, I'm happy to explain my plan to improve things. Za druzhbu -- to friendship!