It was so great to see so many out to the first MAA Plein Air event at the Dickinson Mill in Manotick - Charlie
The Joys of Plein-air Painting by Charlie Spratt, July 2010, revised June 2019
For someone just starting out painting plein air, the experience can be intimidating. I remember the time and place of my first try, well. But with time and patience, it can be rewarding. Here’s some of the reasons why I look forward to painting outside every time I can.
When I paint outdoors my goal is always to express with a paintbrush something about the landscape that I can relate to, as opposed to working from a photograph or other media. When I am outside, my eyes record hundreds of images. I look up into the sky and sense the dark branches against moving clouds, I look down into the shadows at my feet and as my eyes adjust to the dark, I see saturated colour and the result is an impression. To paraphrase my artist friend, Virginia Trieloff, “What the eye perceives and the mind beholds are two different things”.
When I find a location I like, I take the time to look all around, I squint to see patterns and values and think about what I’d like to express in a painting. As I begin to analyze my thoughts, I move details around, eliminating some, changing others until a plan unfolds - a sketch book is helpful. Once I have a composition worked out, I get out my paints and become completely absorbed in painting and time literally flies by.
Plein-air paintings aren’t always successful. There are, in fact, many failures: the result of so many elements from which to choose and any number of distractions - some of which make great stories! But often enough, in the two to three hours available while the light is steady, I get a painting that speaks about the thoughts and feelings I experience from being there. Without exception my plein-air paintings, good or bad, have more life and vitality than any photographic record I could take. That is why I keep returning to the outdoors with my paints.
Back to my studio I assess the work. I scrape off the bugs, decide if a different size canvas would work better, taking particular care to preserve the impression that I recorded outdoors, no matter how messy or incomplete the work. I don’t believe that art is so much about detail as it is about self-expression. Whether the painting is good or not, time will tell.
By organizing MAA paint-outs each Thursday morning, with the help of my friends, I hope that others will try the ‘Plein Air’ experience and that through time and practice they too may come to enjoy it as much as I do. Even after 40 years!
Good Luck and Happy painting!
p.s. It’s always more enjoyable, and safer, to paint with other like-minded artists. Here are several groups that I paint with:
The Manotick Art Association (MAA), the East Central Ont. Art Assoc. (ECOAA), the newly formed North Grenville Artist Guild (NGAG) and Plein Air Ensemble. (PAE)
Too often I see artists: early in the game, bent on selling their work. I can sympathize. I know full-well the rush that comes from selling a painting to a happy client. But after many years of searching for better ways to express myself through my art, I have come to the realization that it is the painting process that gives me the joy and the purpose to continue.
It’s mostly about the many happy hours at my easel; the exuberance from watching an accomplished artist demonstrate a painting technique, at the front of a class, as if it were magic; the many painting trips with friends and new faces; instructing and demonstrating my art for other artists, and the pure joy that comes from learning to see by painting outdoors. And, I have discovered the satisfaction from painting something that I know is good - if only for me. I call it the truth.
For artists, finding themselves frustrated with endeavoring to sell their work, I say "Take some time to reflect on the beautiful journey of discovery that we, as artists, travel."
After 30 years of painting with Plein Air Ensemble, I still eagerly anticipate each trip, This time it is to Maniwaki, QC, where I will be joining 14 artists to paint the spring landscape. If I get a good painting or two, that will be a bonus. See Plein Air Ensemble.
Charlie also paints with the East Central Art Association (ECOAA). His most recent trip was to Algonquin Park, staying at the Algonquin Park East Gate Motel in April this year. See ECOAA
Just back home from hanging new works for a solo exhibition at the Fairview Manor Foyer in Almont
Come Walk With Me. . .
Each of these painting began as an impression, formed while traveling along the sideroads and streets of Almonte and the local countryside. The light in the early evening, the stillness along some backroad are things that resonate for me.
The concept for a painting can develop on the spot or it may take weeks, often with return visits before I start to sketch. Once I get started, the years of painting experience take over and time passes quickly as I paint colour and shapes recording the magic I feel.
Whether the final painting is good, time will tell. I will only sign it, if and when I am satisfied that it speaks the truth.
Exhibition runs from April 9 to June 11, 2019
Vernissage, Meet and Greet, Thursday, April 25th from 7-9pm
Fairview Manor Foyer, 75 Spring St., Almonte, ON
As the weather moderates away from what has turned out to be a long and unusually bitter winter in Ottawa, thoughts turn to spring; for artists, plein air painting in warm sunshine comes to mind with each passing day.
Here are a couple of suggestions for you . . . .
With help from others, I will again be organizing the Thursday outdoor painting outings in the Ottawa area for members of the Manotick Art Association, each week, starting in early June. Drop by one day and see what we are all about. See: www.manotickart.ca for details.
But before then, for artists wishing to get away for several days to paint in the company of other artists, Plein Air Ensemble, hosted by artists, Mary Moore and Tom Lillico, have a trip lined up to Maniwaki, QC (approx., one and a half hours drive from Ottawa), May 12th to 15th, 2019.
Plein Air Ensemble, started 30 years ago by myself and two artist friends, organizes trips for artists twice yearly, spring and fall, to locations in Eastern Ontario and Quebec within one to five hours away. Accommodation is in selected lodges with studio space for artists preferring to work indoors. There is no instruction as such; artists are expected to work independently; however, with the number of seasoned artists attending in the majority, (some with teaching experience) there are many opportunities to learn from others.
I look forward to seeing many of my friends and new faces in Maniwaki this spring! Think about joining us.
For inquiries and application forms please see: www.pleinairensemble.ca.
Here is the finished 24x24 studio painting, Stillness in the Park, from the plein air sketch (right)
Some of my favourite memories are of painting trips to Algonquin Park; especially in the dead of winter. Accompanied by two good friends, both seasoned artists, I spent three great days painting in the Park last week. It was very cold - typical for January - so the warmth of our vehicles was the choice of studio.
As usual, we stayed at the Algonquin East Gate Motel owned by artist David Kay, in Whitney, and took our dinners at the Mad Musher just down the street. The town of Whitney is located on Hwy 60, a few short miles east of the Algonquin Park East Gate.
As one drives west on Hwy 60 out of Renfrew, the countryside begins to take on a new look. You notice that open fields, frozen lakes and forests of tall spruce and pine punctuated by the occasional log building become more common. By the time you reach Whitney the Precambrian landscape has transformed to a northern wilderness connected by towns along the highway.
As I stand in a corner of the Park, the sense of remoteness is overwhelming amid the tall Black spruce casting long blue shadows across perfect snow drifts marked only by the occasional animal track. Seeing moose and other animals is not uncommon and I did see a wolf at a distance this time. In the evening the stars stand out like sentinels.
I am so very grateful that I can continue to make these meaningful trips, considering that I have lost a number of wonderful friends that were often traveling companions. Still, the excitement of painting and sketching each day followed with discussion on art and politics in the evenings continue to provide great memories as I make my way home.
ps, Stillness in the Park, the 11x14 painting (above) was painted along the Opeongo Road in Algonquin Park, Jan. 19, 2019
This November, right after a lovely snowfall, I rushed out with my painting equipment to catch the light. I had in mind a meandering creek not far from where we live. I found a spot to set up and in a few short weeks the result is what you see above. How did I get to this point? It was partly due to good luck (finding a great subject), lots of experience and practice (the painting part) and much more (allowing artistic instinct to guide me). Let me try to explain.
Whenever I attempt a large canvas, (such as Catch the Light, 30x30 shown in progress above) the process seems to fall into two phases. The first is finding a subject and creating a working sketch; it is critical to choose something that is imaginative and catches my interest immediately. After I have settled on a subject and worked out a concept, I set up my easel and get started. Over a two-hour period, I work quickly and give it my best, recording the event in acrylics, on a 11x13 canvas. Sometimes the outdoor work misses the mark and I pack up and move on. Occasionally, a sketch will resonate with the energy of the impression. The sketch (on the right above), chosen for this larger work, is a good example.
I call the second phase, interpretation. Once back in the studio I examine the sketch under studio lighting, similar to what we find in our homes, and make minor adjustments. I take time to reflect on the moment when I started painting the sketch. I clearly recall, for example, that the only thing that caught my eye was the mesmerizing effect of seeing the late-afternoon sun’s rays flooding the creek and the surrounding forest. I remind myself, that I was oblivious to the foreground, other than the feeling of being immersed in its darkness. However, when I paint en plein air I can’t always set up my easel at the location where I would have chosen to stand; in fact, this time, I was obliged to remain at the roadside. Another concern is that the longer one paints a subject, the more time is available to become distracted by superfluous detail that originally went unnoticed.
The interpretative phase may take weeks to coalesce into an artistic statement or it may fall into place quite quickly. It often develops through trial and error as I paint. In this case, I decided that I must incorporate the mysterious dark foreground as part of the composition giving the effect of watching through the trees and undergrowth. (I have unconsciously repeated this technique in other paintings because I feel comfortable being integral to the forest as opposed to someone observing from a distance.) I deliberately made the foreground shapes and patterns vague to complete the feeling of standing there fixated by the wonder of the last rays of sunlight.
I still have a ways to go in finishing this painting, but the statement is strong and my interpretation is truthful in respect of the inspiration. The real job is done.
Catch the Light 30x30, finished and signed, is now posted, along with the original 11x14 sketch.
Just off my studio easel and signed - two works from my trip, two weeks ago, with Plein Air Ensemble, to Westport ON. On the left, Preparing for Winter 18x18 was painted on Foley Mountain and on the right, Westport Retreat 16x20 was painted near the Cove Inn, on the day following our first winter snowfall. I hope you can feel the energy and anticipation that I was experiencing as I set up my easel at each location to try and catch the moment: a priceless feeling.
Back in the studio after examining each canvas under studio lighting conditions, I spent time adjusting the colours and cleaning up each painting, being careful to preserve my original inspiration.
After two, four-day, painting trips to the Westport area, I feel that I still have hardly begun to discover the painting possibilities available. Love to go back.
Charlevoix 10x12 acrylic painted near Baie - St. Paul 2002
The other day I sat down at my computer, coffee in hand, to read the latest posting from Painter’s Keys, my favorite blog for art-lovers. The letter, first posted in 2007, entitled Conservative Tendencies - by Robert Genn, was all about artists and their art in the Charlevoix Region of Quebec.
I’m pretty sure Robert wrote that piece during the ten days, back in 2007, when we both were invited to participate in a special symposium in Baie-St. Paul, Charlevoix, called 10 (artists) -10 (provinces) -10 (days). The invited artists, each from their respective home province, were asked to demonstrate their painting skills by producing major paintings to be featured in a subsequent cross-country traveling exhibition.
As I read Robert’s blog, memories of painting in Charlevoix: a vast region located east of Quebec City and bordering the north shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River, made famous by artists such as A.Y. Jackson, Clarence Gagnon and others, came tumbling in my head.
When our group, Plein Air Ensemble – formerly Artists Painting with Artists – traveled to Charlevoix sometime around 2000, we met Bruno Cote there, a National Canadian icon known for his Canadian landscapes. Bruno’s work was represented by Galerie Art et Style, in Baie St. Paul, as well as fine galleries in major centers from coast to coast. Bruno immediately took a liking to our group and often painted with us whenever we visited the area. My work was accepted at Galerie Art et Style and I was represented there for a number of years. Tragically, Bruno Cote passed away in 2010. It has been some years, now, since our last trip to the Region.
Before my coffee was cold, I saw myself navigating the steep hills in a late spring snow storm while driving to Baie-St. Paul; standing transfixed on our hotel balcony, high above the St. Lawrence River, silently in awe of the brilliant sunset unfolding and watching the toy-like seaway ships plying their way too and fro. And I remembered, too, the incredibly blue mountain-range vistas; the quaint villages and artist studios that dotted the countryside; a truly remarkable place to visit and to paint.
Just off the easel - After the Rain – 36x36 acrylic on canvas, using images from two canvasses painted in Gloucester Mass. around 1990 – a collection of memories of painting on Cape Ann with treasured artist friends.
According to Wikipedia, Gloucester, founded in 1623, is the oldest sea port in the United States. The filming for the movie The Perfect Storm took place there some years ago. The City of Gloucester and its companion town of Rockport are located on Cape Ann, north of Boston. The Cape has been a haven for artists for many years. Painters such as Winslow Homer, Emile Gruppe, John Sloan, Paul Strisik, Charles Movalli, Don Stone and many, many more either made the Cape their home and/or were attracted to and inspired by the area. Both Gloucester and Rockport are renowned for their art associations. The North Shore Art Association (Gloucester) and the Rockport Art Association and Museum (Rockport) each have permanent spacious galleries. The Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester is deemed to be the oldest art colony in America with numerous artist-owned galleries in the area where one can visit and purchase the artist’s work.
Sometime around 1985 I was introduced to Gloucester by my friend and mentor, Grant Tigner who knew the area and some of its artists. A few years later I returned with Grant, Bruce Heggtveit and Poul Thrane - wonderful painters who shared their knowledge with me. The last trip was with artist friends, Andrew Lyall and Pierrette Dulude-Bohay (my co-founders of Plein Air Ensemble) when we studied with Nationally recognized watercolourist and teacher, Betty-lou Schlem from Rockport.
While the magnificent age of commerce under sail has long passed, the community remains a major seafood industry center. I remember painting the ship repair facilities and boats in dry dock along Rocky Neck; the schooners, sail boats and fishing trawlers docked along the Gloucester and Rockport wharves; I recall rising before dawn to paint the sunrise over Bass Rocks; visiting artist’s studio galleries, and the art arguments and discussions going on into the night over a beer and freshly caught seafood. After painting on location all day (oils at first, then watercolours and acrylics) and evenings shared with good friends, it felt wonderful to fall asleep with the surf pounding in my ears.
Such great memories.
ck here to edit.
The Manotick Art Association plein-air painting trips continue every Thursday to the end of September. Our group, usually consisting of 15 or so members, meets at pre-arranged locations within a one-hour's drive of Manotick (Ottawa).
On a recent Thursday morning we traveled to Hoggs Back to paint the power of the Rideau River falls. While most artists preferred to remain in view of the tumbling falls, I chose to wander on down the path that follows the river until I came across a giant ancient willow leaning out over the water.
Just how old, I wondered, is this incredible tree? For how many years has it survived the ravages of the seasons and witnessed each annual renewal? The evidences of late spring were everywhere, bathed in the colours of a clear blue sky and the soft green foliage; the reflected light shining off the water, rocks and on the living skin of that ageless tree.
I put down my back pack and set up my easel in front of the willow, short steps from the river's edge, allowing me time to consider how I could go about creating the feeling. In a short time, with the sounds of rapids in my ears and before the shifting sun had changed the light too much, I sketched in the massive willow and its surroundings.
At noon the artists gathered back at the Hoggs Back pavilion to look at the day's work. Everyone was pleased with the location and happy to share their unfinished paintings and drawings with the others.
Later, in my studio, after some quiet assessment of my sketch, I selected a 30x30 canvas, and got to work. The memories of the experience still fresh in my mind.
I call the painting 'Ageless'. (SOLD)
The plein-air trips are priceless. Can't wait for the next one!