Daily painting #28: Cordell Avenue

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.

Geoff Watson, “Cordell Avenue (study),” May daily painting #28, oil on panel, 8” x 10,” 2019.

Geoff Watson, “Cordell Avenue (study),” May daily painting #28, oil on panel, 8” x 10,” 2019.

Daily painting #3: unfinished wall

This study had potential, but I didn’t finish: the sunshine turned into clouds, the clouds became scary thunder, and I had to rush indoors to avoid being drenched by heavy rain. I still got some ideas down, and it was nice to be outdoors. I stood for the entire 90 minutes I worked, and my back felt good!

With more rain in the forecast for tomorrow, our next daily painting may be a still life.

Geoff Watson, “Unfinished wall,” May daily painting #3, oil on panel, 8” x 10,” 2019.

Geoff Watson, “Unfinished wall,” May daily painting #3, oil on panel, 8” x 10,” 2019.

Walking on Hampden Lane

I continued my tour of the Edgemoor neighborhood in Bethesda. One great thing about painting there is that I have so many friends in the neighborhood. I run into someone I know every time I paint there. Art can be a solitary endeavor, so I always appreciate the company!

Anyway, this painting holds promise, but I ran out of daylight before I could refine it. I was experimenting with softer edges to make the orange tree look more 3D, but in the process I’m afraid I made it too symmetrical. I’ll chop some leaves off it (figuratively speaking) if and when I revisit the site!

Geoff Watson, “Walking on Hampden Lane (in progress),” oil on panel, 11” x 14,” 2018.

Geoff Watson, “Walking on Hampden Lane (in progress),” oil on panel, 11” x 14,” 2018.

Fairfax Road

I was driving by this tree a couple days and came to a screeching halt. I just had to paint it! It’s been pruned in somewhat odd ways, creating some unpredictable lighting patterns. It may not be the best choice of subject, but I don’t care — it was fun to paint. I’m not sure I’m done with this one yet.

Geoff Watson, “Fairfax Road (in progress),” oil on panel, 9” x 12,” 2018.

Geoff Watson, “Fairfax Road (in progress),” oil on panel, 9” x 12,” 2018.

Benches, day 2

I went back to my benches today.  I made some progress, but I'm still not satisfied with the benches themselves, and I'm not sure if there's enough contrast between light and dark.  The foreground is mostly in shadow, except for some light hitting the ground between the benches; but there is bright light behind the tree.  I may try making it brighter.  Unfortunately, this is a lousy photo; the actual painting is brighter.

Geoff Watson, "Benches - in progress," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Benches - in progress," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Just for grins, I applied some filters to add saturation. This image is lighter than the actual painting.  My photograph needs work!  I need to invest in better lighting -- and I need to find my camera tripod!

Geoff Watson, "Benches - saturated version," in progress, oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Benches - saturated version," in progress, oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Benches

I started a plein air painting of these benches near my house, but thunderstorms interrupted my session. Here's the lay-in, after about 45 minutes of sketching and fussing.  I did start to add some color after this point, but I got chased away by the rain.  I plan to return tomorrow or Monday to continue.

Geoff Watson, "Benches," in progress, oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Benches," in progress, oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Cherry trees just after "peak"

Our cherry trees reached peak bloom yesterday, I'd say.  Today we see more green in the trees, and fallen blossoms at our feet.  They're still pretty glorious, though. 

In this picture, I was interested in the "arch" formed by the trees dueling each other from across the street.  But I also sought to convey the subtle gradations of color on the street and in the sky, and I experimented more with the palette knife. I think I'm just starting to get the hang of these cherry blossoms -- just in time for them to disappear for a year!

Geoff Watson, "Cherry trees just after peak," oil on canvas panel, 16" x 20," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Cherry trees just after peak," oil on canvas panel, 16" x 20," 2018.

Cherry tree on a corner

The wind blew again today, and the cherry trees lost more of their blossoms, but they still look great.  It was also downright hot -- 85 degrees or so.  So it was a good day to get outside and paint once more. 

I struggled with this one more than the past few.  I drew a few sketches and settled on a plan, but once I started painting, I started rethinking the composition -- adding and removing background elements, fussing with shadow placement, etc.  I think I managed to recover, and I hope the picture doesn't reflect my early indecisiveness.  In any case, the blossoms look pretty, and that's what counts!

Geoff Watson, "Cherry tree on a corner," oil on linen, 14" x 18," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Cherry tree on a corner," oil on linen, 14" x 18," 2018.

Cherry blossoms along a road

The National Park Service says DC's cherry blossoms supposedly reached their peak five days ago, on April 5, but our blossoms in Maryland seem to be peaking right around now.  (For the NPS view, check out https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/bloom-watch.htm.)  So of course I had to get out there and paint them again! 

This time I chose a more ambitious composition -- a shadowed foreground and a lit background -- even though I knew it would be easier to paint the blossoms with a dark background, as I did in my previous blog post.  I guess I wanted a change of pace.  I also wanted to depict how the blossoms form a canopy over our streets.  To do that best, I'd have to stand in the middle of the road and paint, but that's not feasible, especially with the caravan of tourists.  The piece turned out reasonably well, but I still prefer the single tree I posted on the blog two days ago.

Geoff Watson, "Cherry blossoms along a road," oil on canvas panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Cherry blossoms along a road," oil on canvas panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

A cherry tree

'Tis the season to paint cherry blossoms!  They'll be gone in a few days, so now is the time -- chilly weather or not.  To make the pinkish-white blossoms pop, I chose a tree with dark foliage behind it. 

I started this late afternoon, and my hands got cold before I could finish.  I had hoped to add a tourist or two for scale, and maybe some more foreground detail.  But I'm still pretty happy with this little painting.   

Geoff Watson, "Cherry tree in April," oil on canvas panel, 8" x 10," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Cherry tree in April," oil on canvas panel, 8" x 10," 2018.

Cherry blossoms

The artist Mitch Albala writes that colorful garden scenes are among the more difficult to paint plein air, and I think he's got a point. We think all the pretty colors will be easy to paint, but it's often hard to construct a compelling composition, or to depict values correctly. I had some of those difficulties today.

Also, ordinarily I love having the occasional onlooker, especially when things are going well. But today I had swarms of tourists, many of whom ask the same question: "Are you painting?" (I'm always polite when asked this question; I smile and say "yes.")  Still and all, I had a great time, and the painting came out reasonably well. I wish the blossoms would stay longer than a week; I need more time to practice painting them!  

Geoff Watson, "Cherry blossoms," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, "Cherry blossoms," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.