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Winter Field Journal (Part 2)

The Art of Experimentation/Play

April Mantra: Breathe and Observe, Deeply

During the first week-long "Winter Field Project", I focused on observation, meditation, and sketching. Having no pressure to “make a work of art” definitely kept my mood open, and I think that helped me notice more details, like the variations in the reflections as I noted in Part 1 (hyperlink to part 1). On day 5, I’d planned to wrap up the week with some plein air painting. After my daily visits so far, I certainly knew exactly which spots I would set my tripod and pochade box. However, the day I went back it was cold and blustery, and I was worried my setup would topple. So I took some reference photos and went to the studio instead to paint two 30-minute panels to keep the spirit of a quick outdoor study.

First, a few compositional sketches back at the studios, a warm up both creatively and practically!

The gray days of January and February inspired me, and I wanted to experiment with some new color mixes and create a wintery palette that captured the quiet, cold, dormancy of the winter wetland. I chose cerulean blue, burnt umber, alizarin crimson, and yellow ochre, plus titanium white, for a cool but earthy combination that makes a range of neutrals. I love working in limited palettes, as it forces me to make a little map of how I'm going to assign values from foreground to back. Less choice can be quite calming, a it lends harmony internally and in the painting...

I like the neutrals here, and the flatness of a gray day with minimal shadows comes through. But I’d still like to loosen it up a bit more and also try out some different primary sets. Using yellow ochre as my “yellow” definitely kept the overall palette muted, but I'd like to see how some other mixes turn out.

I made it back to the pond for actual plein air, and added a cool violet to the palette:

Alternating, back at the studio once again, I used ink and pastels for a quick sketch to experiment further with that violet and with naples yellow as well as the yellow ochre. Switching mediums is a great way to loosen up, and dry pastels are great for working through ideas quickly. I’m liking the wintery coolness of this sketch, and also the contrast of the ink under drawing reminds me of the strong lines in the reflections of the trees on site. Next up, I'm going to do some more color experiments as Spring emerges, and go back to the pond... Stay tuned!

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