Saturday, March 31, 2012

Painting plein air in France, and ending up with no painting at all

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This is not Giverny
Watercolour postcard
©2000 Charlene Brown

Several years ago when I had the opportunity to visit Monet’s garden, Giverny, in France, I hoped to do a painting of the water lilies.  But the morning we arrived the place was simply overwhelming in its perfection... Plus, all the best spots were taken by painters who, judging from their output, had been there since dawn.  I didn’t even unpack my paints.
My friend Pat Reese has a rather different, and quite wonderful, story about painting in France, and ending up without a painting… She says, “A few years ago, I was painting in a park in Paris when a woman approached me to look at my painting.  Her husband went into a tirade, ranting about something (in another language) and we shared a very long look, first at him and then a moment looking into each other’s eyes, when we both knew what the other was thinking…  She purchased my painting; I separated it from my pad and handed it to her knowing she was probably just getting back at her husband for something.  She handed me too many francs and we separated as kindred spirits.”
To make up for the lack of illustration for the above stories, I’ve included this postcard I painted at an odd-looking location, Les Baux-de-Provence, in the South of France, complete with the obligatory Drama of Painting Plein Air…
Roving Art Critic: That’s some strange drawing you’re doing.
Artist: This is a strange place.
Critic: That’s what I mean… It looks just like the real thing!
Artist: Nobody’s ever said that about my stuff.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Painting Plein Air in Egypt

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(click on image to enlarge)

Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan
Watercolour and crayon
©2008 Charlene Brown

This is a fairly realistic sketch I did during a University of Victoria travel study program a few years ago. I’ll let the comments of one of the bystanders (referred to as Roving Art Critic in the following Drama of Painting Plein Air) explain why I say it’s ‘fairly’ realistic.
RAC: How can you see the top of that thing from here?
Artist: I can’t – I climbed around it to where those people are standing up there to draw the broken point, which is the most interesting part.
RAC: That’s sure not the way I learned to draw.
Artist: I use a Cubist approach developed by Picasso – my sight of an object is the sum of many different views and my memory of it is not constructed from one angle.
Okay, I didn’t actually think of saying that until two weeks later back in Canada, when I had a chance to look up Cubism. What I said was more like:
Artist: I’m doing the best I can.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Painting Plein Air on the Westsong Walkway

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Harbour Garden
Watercolour and crayon
©2009 Charlene Brown

I had thought of titling this Runway Garden, as the harbour is used by floatplane airlines with up to 60 flights a day when the Legislature is in session. I quite like the planes and had even planned to include a couple in the painting, until I decided that was just too busy (as is the harbour, according to some residents.) The Inner Harbour is a wonderful place to paint, with views east toward downtown Victoria, and south to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. Not surprisingly, other people like it too – runners, people walking to work, tourists, people walking their dogs.  Speaking of which…

South African artist Cathy Gatland, like our mutual friend Vivien Blackburn and unlike me, is not in any danger of having roving art critics helping her with her sketching… but she’s the only person I know who has been subjected to the ultimate critique… A big friendly Ridgeback appeared fascinated with a painting she was doing at the Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg. But, as he was leaving, casually lifted his leg at it... All part of the Drama of Painting Plein Air!


Monday, March 19, 2012

Abstracting travel paintings

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Winter evening at the hot pool
Watercolour and gouache
©2012 Charlene Brown

I like the idea of ‘abstracting’ travel paintings but, having taken the trouble to get to the locations I paint, I like them to remain recognizable. You might say they’re stylized rather than abstracted, in that they almost always are much less ‘abstract’ than I had originally intended. Winter Evening at the hot pool is a darkened, stylized version of one of the Banff postcards I sent to other participants in the Postcard From My Walk international postcard exchange. It was the last one, so is displayed first in this series of all the postcards I painted.   
The Postcard From My Walk series is now in its final month and I’m really going to miss receiving these tiny postcard masterpieces from artists all over the world.  But I’m happy to say we’re starting a new project in a couple of months…  I hope you'll all be watching for it!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Painting Plein Air in Pakistan

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Mountain Farms
Watercolour
©1994 Charlene Brown
I painted over a dozen postcards of the awesome surroundings of our hotel about three hours (straight up) from Islamabad – even improving upon the location by spreading out on a table in the outdoor dining area. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned about The Drama of Painting Plein Air in Pakistan:
Almost everyone who sees you painting will want to watch, and if they speak English they will want to discuss what you're doing. (They know just by looking at you that you understand English, so I no longer even consider the rude notion of pretending I don’t) and most will have questions. Here is the only safe answer to the first one…
Roving Art Critic: How much do you get for these?
Artist: I can’t sell them.  I’ve promised to mail them to my friends.
And here's how I handle the inevitable questions about my ‘inaccurate’ compositions...
Critic 2: Why is this so big?
Critic 3: Shouldn’t this be in front of this?
Critic 4: Why have you left out those terraces over there?
I try dazzling them with paperwork by working on more than one painting at a time.  This actually works fairly well -- and is a good idea for lots of other reasons as well.
A very accomplished artist friend, Vivien Blackburn, would have less need to worry about questions like these… Posts like Working plein air – the hazards strengthen my belief that any roving critics examining Vivien’s plein air work are more likely to be hoping to pick up a free art lesson than to offer helpful suggestions!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Virtual Paintout in St. Petersburg

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Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas
Watercolour and crayon
©2012 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in St. Petersburg, Russia this month.  My first inclination was to paint the Hermitage and I found a good angle to view a corner of the main building, but then had to admit that it would be just too hard to paint!  It will be interesting to see what others make of it. 
I was in St. Petersburg about six years ago and I loved the beautiful blue ‘Sailors’ Church,’ so decided to try that instead. I had only a vague idea of where it was, but located it fairly quickly at the T-junction of two small canals.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Painting Plein Air on the Danube

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Durnstein, Austria
Watercolour and ink
©2011 Charlene Brown


This is the postcard I sent to Robyn Sinclair when I was on a Danube-Rhine River Cruise, and she wrote some very nice things about it on A Postcard From My Walk.
I did the sketch and started painting it on the top deck (where I was unable to find a corner to back into) as we were leaving Durnstein to sail on up to Melk.
I have recently completed a 6-week course in writing Flash Fiction (really short stories – much like my blog posts).  I learned to minimize the word count by starting in the middle of the action and using dialogue to define characters and move things along quickly. So here’s the rest of this post as the script for a play: The Drama of Painting Plein Air.

Roving art critic: What’s this big thing on the hill?
Artist: The ruin of the castle where Richard the Lion Heart was imprisoned on his way home from the Third Crusade.
Critic: It doesn’t look that big.
Artist: I was up there this morning, and I know it’s huge. And the mountain it’s on is much higher than it looks from here.
Critic: And is the forest purple when you get up there?  It just looks sort of tree-coloured from here…
Artist: Yes, it is very purple when you get up there.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Painting Plein Air in the Cinque Terre Villages

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Vernazza
Watercolour and ink
©1996 Charlene Brown

This unusual view of Vernazza, probably the most picturesque of the Cinque Terre Villages, is a result of the fear of painting in public that I had back in 1996.  And still have, come to think of it.
As I mentioned in my post about sketching on the island of Gozo, I tend to seek out a corner to back into when painting plein air so I won’t have to explain the (not always intentional) idiosyncrasies in my composition and techniques. It turned out I couldn’t really see the town, facing out to the harbour from the corner I found in Vernazza. I should probably have titled it 'View from Vernazza.'
I was horrified to hear of the devastating floods that hit the Cinque Terre Villages on October 25 last year, and have put off posting this story until I came across this encouraging news about the Cinque Terre Villages’ recovery, including information about how we can help.