“Not to Be Framed”

Thanks to Artists’ Network, one day earlier this week I got about as close to plein air painting as I’m ever likely to get. This was through a video called “Painting the Alberta Landscape” with Doug Swinton. He’s a friendly character, and I enjoyed my imaginary visit with him. Together we traipsed through the wilderness until we came to the perfect scene for plein air painting.

Of course, I did this in the confines of my studio. My intention wasn’t to copy his painting. I simply wanted to be a bit of an observer, watching to see how he went about setting up, choosing a view, and painting in the open air.

As he scanned the horizon and chose a view he liked, I listened intently as he described the process — and I loved what he said. This expedition into the countryside of Alberta was not about making a finished painting. Forget that, he said. What he was there to do, he explained, was to gather information, to create a plein air study that he could then take back to the studio with him. I was intrigued. I decided to put myself in the scene with him, to look at what he was looking at, and to fully imagine that I was actually there painting side by side with Swinton.

But painting wasn’t where we began. First, we chose how we wanted to map out the scene. This meant making a quick sketch. A very quick sketch. Once again Swinton pointed out that this was not meant to be a “frameable” drawing. This was merely a way for us to make notes about what we saw.

In the past, the idea of making a quick landscape sketch always left me bewildered. I was never too sure how much — or how little — information to include. Now, however, having discovered a greater sense of freedom in my approach to art, I just jumped right in and put together a very useful sketch. I was pleased that I didn’t try to “copy” Swinton’s marks. Indeed, my sketch looked different from his, and that’s how it should be! I was excited to see that I’d used my own artistic sense and my own artistic abilities to make a sketch that truly represented what I was seeing, a sketch that was, by all accounts, good enough to serve as a road map.

I’ve darkened this a bit so that you can get an idea of how my sketch looked. This was drawn very lightly on the upper half of my sketchbook.

Next, I followed along as Swinton set up his tripod easel. My portable easel just happened to be sitting within arm’s reach, so I grabbed it. At this point I was feeling quite comfortable. Just as I hadn’t needed to concern myself with an accurate and highly-detailed sketch, I wasn’t supposed to think about making a finished, frameable painting. This was just a study, a sort of “rough draft” in oils.

I set up my palette, although my colors were a bit different from the ones Swinton used. It was all right. “This is not to be a frameable painting,” he repeated over and over, and I, in turn, repeated those same words over and over to myself.

Once my palette was ready (it took me much longer to get set up than it did for Doug Swinton), I followed his suggestion to sketch the scene again, this time on the canvas with a very thin burnt sienna color. This is a technique I was familiar with. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. But this was to be a road map, so I sketched in the basic shapes and indicated a few areas of darker value.

And then it was on to the painting. Very loose. Very free. This is not to be a frameable painting. Oh, yes, I loved the freedom I felt. Whatever I did, it would be all right, and best of all, whatever I did would be mine. I wasn’t creating the exact same painting Swinton was doing. I wasn’t using the same colors. I was just watching his process and going from there as I completed my own wilderness study.

My study definitely looked different than Doug Swinton’s study, and I was very happy about that. I’m finding that the more I go out on my own, the happier I am with the results. For a quick study, this small 8 x 10 canvas works.

If there’s any area that’s lacking, it’s that bit of foreground. I always have problems with the foreground area in landscape paintings, so I’ll continue to work on that.

But now comes the real challenge: taking this small study and turning it into a larger landscape painting, one that — hopefully — will be suitable for framing. How will that turn out? You’ll just have to wait and see. My completed version of “Alberta Landscape” will be posted in a few days.




    1. Yes, the light can change very quickly. That’s one more reason why I do most of my painting in the studio. I can make quick sketches in plein air, but I’m definitely not a plein air painter. 🙂

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      1. Definitely. Maybe in the spring I’ll try to get out and do more plein air painting. In the past I’ve done a lot of “nature drawing” at our park, but not much painting. I love going to our park and walking the hiking trails. It’s going to be closed over the winter while they work on repairing the dam at the lake.

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      2. The good news is that we didn’t get nearly as much bad weather as was predicted. I really stocked up on our grocery order this week — just in case we got snowed in.

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      3. The snow has stopped… we didn’t get a lot. But the temperature is 7 degrees F, with wind chills of -20 below F. We’re definitely staying in today! I’m fixing a big pot of spicy pork chili, we’ll be watching football with a cheery fire in the fireplace.

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      4. I will move my gift of woodchips with the tractor after coffee then settle in for a day of football myself. I painted from the warmth of my kitchen table last night I cannot wait to finish the small piece I did just to play last night. I am wondering what to make to eat as I have a procedure on Tuesday and will be on clear liquids starting tomorrow, lol oh joy. Have a great Sunday!

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      5. I hope all goes well with you on Tuesday. I will keep you in my thoughts. I do all of my oil painting in the studio now, but I still enjoy drawing at the kitchen table, and sometimes doing a little watercolor there. It’s just a nice, cozy spot, isn’t it!

        Now, I have to ask! Which football team will you be rooting for today? We’re in the KC area, so we’re cheering on our Chiefs. 🙂

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      6. Ah Mahone’s lol I am in New England so my eyes will be on the Patriots and of course Tampa as we do adore Tom 🙂 and thank you for Tuesday wishes mom died of ESOPHAGUS CANCER so I must test 😦

        I paint with just watercolor so I can even do it on my lap though watching Eric Roades has me wanting to try solvent free oils.

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      7. I’ll actually be rooting for the Patriots over the Jaguars today, too, along with the Bucs, although I doubt that they’ll have any problems. My husband and I do a weekly football pot to see who can pick the most winners for the week. Loser puts $5.00 in our pot. At the end of the season we’ll spend that money on something fun. So far, he’s won a few more weeks than I have, but I’m on a roll. I’ve won the last 2 weeks in a row. Wish me luck today!

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      8. I play on two radio station football pools for prizes but for me it is the challenge and knowing all the play makers my old boyfriend and I used to play with friends $5 each week make our picks straight up no under or overs and the winner walked away with bragging rights and some cool cash. Enjoy the day inside watching all the teams vie for a spot in the playoffs!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Thanks! We haven’t yet decided what we’re going to spend our football pot money on. Next week will be the last week. I’m not planning to do any pot for the play-offs.

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