Afternoon shadows, Provence – Oil on Panel, 7 x 5 inches
I thought I’d picked a good spot.
There was slight shade on me, keeping the full Provence sun from baking my head, and I had good light on my panel.
The other workshop attendees were mostly in front of me, in my field of view and obscuring some of the scene. But I thought I’d be able to edit them out as I painted and make up the bits I couldn’t see.
There’s something about that moment when you commit to starting a plein air painting.
I’m a pretty severe procrastinator, so I found myself spending ages wandering back and forwards every time we set up to paint, trying to decide what the best spot was.
In fact, with every painting I did on Julian’s workshop in Provence, I was unsure of the spot I’d chosen. Right up to the moment of actually starting, I’d be sure it was a bad spot and my painting was going to fail because I’d chosen the wrong place to paint.
But when you actually decide to start, suddenly it feels like you’re running out of time.
And in a sense, you are. Because the light is going to change. So you want to get as much of the painting established as you can before it changes too much.
Panic set in every time. And it didn’t go away until I had most of the panel covered and could start to see how the values and the composition were working.
I think that’s where a large part of the exhilaration of painting en plein air comes from.
For this painting, our spot was chosen by Julian, so we had a great start.
To tried to ensure I made the most of it, compositionally. I had a little viewfinder the same size as my panel, light and strong, made from black foam core. Looking through it and scanning around, I could get some overall idea of how the composition might look – a starting point, at least.
Like the first painting I did on this trip, this one was all about the disappearing road and the shadows falling across it. The area of green field directly to the right of centre was very high chroma – higher, I suspect, than I got it here – so I used lemon yellow and phthalo green to get the value high without losing the chroma.
By the end, I was chucking pure lemon yellow right onto the panel to try to bring it up enough to get that feeling of bright sun.
I was also painting slightly contre jour here – looking into the sun. So the trees directly to the right of the track had shadow in their middles and a halo of lighter value.
It makes for nicely dramatic lighting, and I find myself drawn to it as I wander about the hills and woods at home now, looking for subjects to paint.
But it does come with challenges.
Don’t stand in the sun
Ah yes, the sun.
I’d neglected to consider which direction the sun was likely to move as I painted.
Before I’d been working too long, my paltry amount of shade disappeared and the heat was building. It was also harder to judge colours and values with an glaring light directly in front of me and my panel in silhouette against it.
This picture was taken by another attendee as I was working on this painting, before I lost my shade:
The heat grew more intense. I started getting dizzy and fatigue set in. I’d forgotten my water. Luckily there was a water fountain nearby with some shade so I kept escaping for short breaks.
About half way through the painting, Julian came over and gave me another of his many pieces of sage advice:
“Always try to find a good ‘studio’ to work in. This isn’t a good studio.”
I’m going to remember that one. Carrying a compass is a really good idea, Julian told me, so that you can assess which way the sun is likely to travel before you start.
So now I always do. And I always make sure I have water.
It was particularly green in Provence this summer because the spring had been very wet, and the intensity of those greens in the full sun was hard to even approach.
Nonetheless I was really pleased with the way this one came out. Despite the struggles, I think I managed to get some feeling of that intense Provence summer sun.
And I learned some more valuable lessons along the way.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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