Island Ford, Ed Cahill, Plein Air Painting

Shade and Sun

Island Ford
Island Ford

I’m a graphic designer and have made a living at it for almost twenty years now. I’m proud but realize that all that time I spent in my craft was time not painting and not learning how to be a professional painter. I’m a father and and husband, and with that took what paths I could to support my family.

I don’t think I’m a snob about it but I do realize a distinct difference in painting plein air.  I’ve always been a painter since a little boy— I was born to be one.  And I’ve always painted outside—but this idea of branding it as ”plein air” is a new thing for me.  Even though I was aware of the Impressionists, and they are some of my heroes like Van Gogh and Monet this strict definition of “plein air” took me by surprise. Often my work was based on plein air starts and finished in the studio. I started to see that a lot of this work ruined the freshness of the starts I made. Most of the paintings were large and required a lot more work than was possible in one session outside. I was working a lot at this time so I was not doing many paintings—at the most ten a year. Some of these are good — well composed and skillfully painted but not imbued with the freshness of a true plein air painting. When it’s done right, it just has that fresh, lifelike look that can’t be faked.

Rain on the way
Rain on the way

So this weekend I spent both days painting outside. Saturday was very cloudy and looked like rain most of the day. I’m back to doing pencil thumbs before I start and did several looking out the windows upstairs in my house in the anticipation of staying inside but as it drew near noon I figured it was worth a try to get outside. I have the advantage of a big yard with a large part of it still wooded and a stream that runs through it. So when I don’t feel like getting in my car and riding around looking for someplace to paint I can just hike down the hill and set up on the stream. This vertical was inspired by the way the old house across the stream sort of flows down hill with a small shack in the back a bit below the rest of the structure. It’s a very poorly kept place but has a kind of romantic feel to it. I wanted to capture that low gray light here and was interested in the large group of dark cedars that punched up the contrast of the house. The house is painted a dull  ocher on one side and white in the back. This confused me and I had to repaint it quite a few times also simplifying the windows. In the end this has a gritty almost Russian feel to it.

Chattahoochee Landing
Chattahoochee Landing

Sunday was a day to write home about. I loaded up my car and headed to Island Ford State Park on the Chattahoochee. This is my second visit in a month there and I went to get a view of the lodge that looks like it came from the Poconos or out West. But the light was not right on it early so I walked down to the launching ramp right on the river and promptly spent the next six hours in one place. The first painting I did was a view up the river and across with several houses clustered along the North bank. I was enamored with one large house and as I do sometimes fixated on getting it in right—the light was bright but straight down, After hours and hours everything around it looked good but the house just did not work so completely changed the painting in the last hour and was still not satisfied. Views across water work much better with some frame in the foreground. I say this to myself all the time but for some reason just keep on doing them.

As the afternoon wore on I had a steady stream of visitors and was enchanted by a young couple with their dogs who stopped and sat and talked for hour or more while I tried another. The day was just glorious and as the afternoon light changed to a golden glow it lit up one of the islands in the middle of the river like a candle. Inspired, I rushed to capture the drama of it—This is what plein air is all about! After just an hour I had what I spent the whole day working for.

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