I paid a visit to Hills Plaza, a pleasant street in Friendship Village, just north of the DC-Maryland line. I liked the way the streetlamps lined up, and I also wanted to say something about the competition between trees and buildings in the background. I was still painting away when darkness fell, so I gave up before I felt I was finished; once again I gave short shrift to the flowers in the flower pot! Not to mention the tops of the street lamps. I will touch them up tomorrow.
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.
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 spent a balmy afternoon painting the outdoor seating area of a local Five Guys restaurant. I wiped it out twice, as I learned the hard way that people don’t stay at a Five Guys for very long! My models kept leaving. So the painting is just okay — sort of indecisive. Also, I now see that I should’ve moved (or removed) the tall straight tree on the left, as it confuses the well-drawn potted plant in front of it. . Oh well. I still learned from the painting, and it was fun.
Happy New Year! I’ve been busy preparing to return to teaching this semester, but I still plan to paint or draw every day. My New Year’s resolution is to paint 50 pictures this year — but to paint them more carefully, with more attention to detail. I will experiment more with converting plein air studies and other reference material into finished studio landscapes. I’m reading Michael Chesley Brown’s book on the subject now.
In general I don’t paint exclusively from photos, but I’m not a fanatic about it. I did the painting below as a commission, using the client’s photo reference and other photos. It was fun!
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!
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.