Summer Leaves

As an artist who is still working to learn basic oil painting skills, nothing pleases me more than coming away from a painting session with something I actually like. I smile when I see this Summer Leaves painting:

Summer Leaves - Plein Aire

This is a small painting. It’s on a 5 x 7 canvas panel, and even though I like it now, I do plan to “tweak” it just a bit, but that will happen later. The main reason I want to touch it up a bit is because of that weird-looking “skeletal face” in the center at the right. See it? I didn’t notice it until I’d ended my painting session.

May I tell you a little about this painting experience? Thanks! I love sharing the stories of my paintings, especially the ones I like.

This painting didn’t get off to a very good start — which makes me like it all the more. It was painted en plein aire, outside on our front porch. Now, if you’ve read much of this blog, you know I’m not comfortable with painting en plein aire. I’ve been encouraged to give it a try, but I’m always able to find one reason or another why it’s just not something I want to do.

While painting outside isn’t something I enjoy, I do love drawing and sketching outside. I try to schedule a little outside time at least two or three days each week. This morning, I decided to push myself a bit and instead of taking my sketch pad and pencils, I gathered up my oil paints and prepared for a plein aire painting session on my porch.

It was frustrating. It had rained last night. Actually, it had poured. The porch chairs were soaked. I had to run inside for a towel. Even with the barest minimum of supplies — a set of water-soluble oils, a small canvas, five paintbrushes, a jar of water, my easel, a drawing pencil… yikes! I consider those the bare minimum, but what a long list it is. And that wasn’t even all. Once I started setting up, I realized I’d forgotten a palette, and I definitely needed old rags.

At last, I settled into my chair, all the while wondering exactly what it was that I was going to paint. We don’t live in a scenic neighborhood. We have some lovely areas within walking distance, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was determined to sit there on my wet porch and find something to paint. As you might be guessing, I really wasn’t in much of a painting mood. Trying to work en plein aire does that to me. I came into the experience figuring I’d do a half-hearted job of painting some not-very-intriguing corner of the porch, a scraggly bush in the yard, or… well, something! 

But what? I cast a glance around, and the only thing of beauty to be seen were the tops of the trees above a neighbor’s roof. Well, why not? I used my camera first to take a shot of the area I wanted to paint. I cropped it a bit, and never mind that these trees weren’t rooted in the ground. I was the artist. I could take those trees and put them anywhere I wanted.

Even then, I didn’t expect this little painting to be anything worth writing about. But I’d promised myself to give it a try, and I promised to do my best. I just didn’t expect much from my efforts.

I used a drawing pencil to sketch out the basic shapes of the main tree limbs. I tried adding in shapes to show how the boughs of leaves fell here and there. Was I being truly serious about it? Not really. I was doing my best, but I really wasn’t at all sure how to go about drawing these Summer Leaves with graphite on my canvas panel.

I kept going. I knew I needed to think about light, so I looked closely, finding places where little patches of sunlight fell against the darker areas. I looked, too, at the shadows and noted where they fell.

Finally my sketch was complete. And then came the moment of truth. I had a somewhat interesting — almost fanciful — drawing on my canvas, but what in the heck was I supposed to do with it?

Oh-oh! That was when I realized that in all my scribbling to capture the beauty of these summer leaves, I’d completely forgotten about the sky. Could I see sky holes through the branches? Yes, of course, but I’d neglected to show them in my drawing.

For heaven’s sake, what sort of artist am I? How does one forget sky holes? Well, that’s easy enough for me. I tend to do it often. But this time, I decided to find a way around the problem, and I chose to start with a pale blue. I dabbled the paint here and there around the trees. And I loved what I was seeing.

All the while I’d been grumbling to myself and fretting about how to paint this scene, my brain had been envisioning colors and shapes. Imagine that! I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I had fun bringing my creative vision to life.

Maybe I don’t have all the lights and shadows just right, and there is that distracting skeletal face lurking in the painting. I’ll take care of the face, at least, but I’m not going to worry much about the lights and shadows.

I like this little painting. It turned out the way I’d envisioned it, and it does, indeed, bring a smile to my face. I hope you like it, too!




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