Wanda was just mentioning that she is going to be doing a plein air event this year in a park that is mostly green grass and green trees, and did I have any suggestions! I thought a few of you might be interested in this topic as well.

First of all - I know how your feel about the green grass and green trees scenes! Everything feels flat and mechanical and uninteresting. But sometimes that is what we have to work with! I've come up with a couple of strategies.

Artistic License: Don't feel like you have to capture the scene exactly! Use your creativity. Look for the elements that you love, use that as your focal point, and then use the rules of composition to create an interesting painting and tell your story.

Light and Shadow: I think the biggest thing is to look for light and shadow patterns. Which is tough when you are painting plein air because they move! The trick is to paint them in quickly when you see the pattern you like - just get the shapes and values in there - and then don't change them! I can't tell you how many hours I've spent and realized I was just repainting the shadows as they moved! Plus, you can always make them up! Just be careful to be consistent, identify the direction of your light and stick to it!

What if?: The best question to ask yourself to liven up a scene. What if I added a path? What if I added some flowers in this focal area? What if I moved this awkward tree to a better location? What if I added some distant mountains? 

Color: I often just push the season in the focal area, maybe a touch of autumn color or spring blossoms. Also trying to find an area where you have some distance view, even if it is just more trees. Then you can make those much bluer. Trunks and branches! Browns, reds, oranges. Dead leaves! More opportunities for color. Dry grass areas. There are many many shades of green. Subtle variations in both hue, saturation and value can really make a huge difference. Light, dark, dull, bright. Think of how you can make a grayscale painting, or a monochromatic painting and it can be very impactful! Value and composition first.

Here's one I did in just such a park. All grass and trees, but in one little area I found this footpath through a little grove with the sun brightly lighting up the field behind...

You can see I've simplified the background, taking out the buildings in the distance and just leaving some neutral blue greens in the distance. I pushed the color in the background field to be greener and prettier. I played up the light and shadow patterns and added some flowers.

Here's a more extreme take. Again, a fairly boring grass and trees park, though this time there was a building housing the bathrooms!

As you can see, this one was truly just inspired by the scene! Ha! I added lots of flowers, added more dappled, turned the potty into a little house. Changed the direction of the path to lead into the painting instead of out and made it dirt instead of asphalt! Fun stuff :)

Well I hope this gives you some good ideas Wanda! Good luck with your event, and do show us how it turns out!

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Many thanks Karen! You topic is a problem for me. I'll read again your advices more attentively (it's too late for me just right now). Thanks for sharing.

You're welcome Philippe!

thanks Karen! i only got to try plein air once last summer. i hope to try it again this year. this is very helpful for me. the paintings are so much nicer than the real thing! very pretty :) i cant wait to see what Wanda comes back with!

Me, too Wenda! I think you would enjoy plein air painting. All that practice you did with the quick studies is great preparation. You would do great!

This is great Karen, thanks very much.  And your paintings are beautiful - so much lovely color compared to the actual scenes.  I need to hang on to this and refer to it often.  Really appreciate your doing this!

You're welcome Mary! So glad it helped!


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