“Have you ever painted outdoors?” I asked one artist. “Yes, I have” he said. “I try painting outdoors at least once a year. It is a hassle though” he explained, “you must deal with the wind which blows your things away, then there is the sun glaring on your painting and blinding you, so you need a parasol. There are also flies that come to you. It is not as romantic as it sounds.” He thought a moment. “It is not easy” he continued, “painting from real life is very different from painting from a reference photo. In real life your eyes pick up much more detail and much more color than a photo can produce, and all this information can overwhelm you. You must learn to discriminate, and to simplify what you see.”
I wanted to do this outdoor painting thing, or, as it is called in art jargon, plein air. I took a market trolley and packed it with the following items:
- A small paint box
- Two brushes, one large and one small
- A black pen and a black brush pen
- A pad of watercolor paper
- A jar
- Some toilet paper (to wipe the brushes)
- masking tape
- A plywood board (larger than the watercolor paper)
- A small folding stool
- A large bottle of water
- Some nuts (to give me energy)
I left the house with my trolley and made my way to a local botanical garden. By the time I arrived the sun was high, it was hot, and I was tired. Desperately I looked for a shady place to sit and rest. I found a small dark path, shadowed by large trees. I went there, took out my stool, and sat down. I looked at the path and the trees, wondering how they would look in a painting. As I was contemplating the path, I noticed this stem with leaves waving in the breeze, and I thought it sweet and liked it. I turned my stool around to face it squarely, and took out my painting supplies.
I taped a piece of watercolor paper to the plywood board with the masking tape, and put the board on my lap. I filled the jar with water, opened the paint box, and put the brushes and pens beside me. I looked at the leaves I wanted to paint and wondered how to start. It was quiet except for a few birds chirping. There were very few people around, nobody was foolish enough to come out in that heat. In the shaded spot where I was sitting it was cool and comfortable. I made a few lines with the pen, then started painting the leaves.
I ate some nuts and continued:
The rock underneath the plants was challenging. I realized what the artist meant by being overwhelmed by all the detail and colors our eyes can see in the real world. I continued with some darker colors:
I looked at my watch and realized that I was sitting there already an hour and a half, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable on the stool. I added some washes for the background, then traced the stem with the black brush pen. I was done.
I packed my things and left.