From Study to Studio: Rose Regalia

There is little more satisfying than capturing a moment in time through painting. And there is no better method to achieve that end than painting from life. The beauty of plein air painting lies in its freshness and immediacy. At its best, pure notes of color painted with confidence are juxtaposed with passages of broken color as the painter makes new discoveries along the way. Light and shadow fit together like pieces of a puzzle until a unified statement coalesces into art.

Where plein air painting is very spontaneous, my approach in the studio, while similar, is more deliberate. Here I can adjust my proportions and play with the composition without the rush against time. I knew in the moment as I was painting this scene at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens that I would want to do a variation of it in a larger format. The colors were so spectacular and the garden designers did a good deal of the design work for my painting with the well- planned pathways and layers of flowers in all shades framed by trees and gazebos in the background.

“Rose Regalia”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Rose Regalia”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

I chose a favorite canvas size, 24 x 30”, for my larger studio piece. It is a slightly different aspect ratio than my 12x16” plein air, so I made some slight adjustments to the proportions and placement of the gazebos to create a less centered composition.

“Rose Regalia II”, Oil on linen, 24x30” ©Jennifer E Young

“Rose Regalia II”, Oil on linen, 24x30” ©Jennifer E Young

I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the smaller painting and the lighting effect coming from behind, but I lengthened the path to create a little more distance between the foreground roses and the background gazebos so as to slow the eye as it traveled through the painting. I really liked the looseness and freshness in the handling of the roses in my plein air piece, but I added more tonal variation and detail in the peachy roses in the foreground, since these shrubs were close to the viewer and the larger canvas seemed to call for something more.

Overall I am enjoying both the large and small versions of this composition, each in their own ways, and I think they each possess their own qualities unique to their chosen approach. The smaller plein air piece is currently one of 3 paintings I have displayed in a group show called “En Plein Air” at the Lora Robbins Library at Lewis Ginter, and the larger painting will be a part of a new exhibit this Friday at Crossroads Art Center’s Summer Open House. If you are in the Richmond area and you’d like to see these shows in person, check out my calendar for the details .

Plein air in the garden

As I mentioned in my last post, I participated last week in a “call for artists” from Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to celebrate National Public Gardens week. You may know from reading previous blogs that I have painted in these gardens many times as a resident of Central Virginia. But somehow, painting in this context, constructed around an “official event,” helped me to see this place with new eyes and renewed excitement.

I decided to challenge myself by painting some gardens that I hadn’t tackled before. The first day I went it was AWASH with tours and school groups. There were so many kids there stopping to give their input. All of it was actually very positive, but also a bit distracting. Now, I love kids quite a lot, (and even have one those cuties myself) but on this day they were messing with my mojo and I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing😅.

The architectural elements were minimal, but even so, required some concentrated drawing, some sense of proportion and placement to get right, especially since I was fairly close up to my subject and didn’t have a lot of room to manuver. I moved my entire setup several times and wiped it all down, before finally settling on a view that satisfied. It left me less time than I had planned to get everything down before I had to head back to my house in Ashland, but I did a pretty decent job, with only the need for a few final touches in the studio.

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

When I was (finally) in a pretty good place with my painting, a kid came by to examine my progress. I estimate he was around my daughter’s age (3rd or 4th grade) . He studied my effort with seriousness, alternately looking at my painting and the scene, my painting and the scene. Finally he gave me a decisive and approving nod. “You’ve done your homework,” he said.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of painting outdoors. It’s filled with its share of frustrations to be sure, but the moments of spontaneity are pure gold.

Time struggles, plein air, and new calendar of events

This week has been a little crazy; two openings and a plein air event for me, theater rehearsals and school and sports for my daughter, and all of the regular stuff of life in between. But some version of crazy seems to be the norm for my schedule every week, and I am not alone.

While I was painting this week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (more on that in a minute) I ran into an artist friend and we started talking about how disorganized we can sometimes feel and how guilty we feel about not being better at marketing to social media, to our newsletters, and yes, to our blogs. When time is crunched, the choice of whether to do any of the above or to paint always seems to result in painting as the clear winner.

It’s a frustration that I know a lot of other artists share, many of whom, like me, aren’t always masters of time management or organization. “I need a calendar of events on my website,” I said to my friend, “a quick and simple way for people to check in and see my upcoming shows and events. Maybe it would help me stay more organized too.” When I got home that afternoon, I checked out my site and lo and behold it does have that functionality. So viola! I now have a calendar!😃

If you check out the aforementioned calendar you can see that I have been spending the week painting at the botanical gardens as part of a promotion for National Public Gardens Week. Local artists who applied to paint during this week will submit their completed works for a chance to be juried in to an exhibit at Lewis Ginter that opens June 22nd.

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

I really like these kind of events because even though I regularly paint outside on my own, they get me out and focused and inspired. I enjoy seeing what other artists are doing and collecting new ideas on various artists setups and tools of the trade. It’s a very different vibe from the more formal events that are organized around competition. I have some friends who thrive on competition and use it as a means to drive themselves onward to bigger heights. For myself, it’s a little more stressful. I do the competitions from time to time and haven’t yet regretted it, but I am not that competitive by nature. So the more relaxed festivals that are really just a celebration of art and plein air painting are truly my jam.

Edges, mark-making and tools

Happy New Year!🎉 Okay, granted I am a little late to the party, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks moving into a new exhibit space for 2019. More on that soon, but today I wanted to share a bit about mark making, and neat little tool that I stumbled upon along the way.

I didn’t have tons of time over Christmas break to paint, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind. I have been thinking a lot about how I can loosen up, to create pieces that are truthful but not quite so literal. One of the things I struggle with is varying not only color but brushwork, so that there is not so much sameness everywhere. I vary brush sizes and shapes, but it still can leave me feeling a little bit like there must be something more. Sometimes I want to push a bunch of paint around and brushes alone don’t always do that.

Then one day, I purchased a Color Shaper. I actually bought this to spread gesso, because I have some pre-gessoed canvases that I bought that have been sitting around in my studio unused because are still a bit too rough and absorbent for my liking.

Before I even used it for gesso, I got curious. I had heard of other artists using these tools fairly extensively for applying paint in their work and I got to wondering whether it might be a useful tool for varying my edges and textures in my painting.

It didn’t really do what I was hoping for. These shapers come in varying degrees of firmness and the tool I ordered was an extra firm. Good for gesso spreading, but not for my painting. Still, I saw the potential so I went back online to see if I could get another one with more flexibility. But before I got that far, I stumbled upon these do-hickeys and fell in love.

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These guys, officially called Princeton Catalyst Wedges, are made of some kind of silicone or rubber and come in a variety of shapes . They are more flexible than my prior purchase but still firm enough to move the paint. They don’t have handles, but frankly I prefer this handle- less variety because it allows for more control.

What does it do? Well, for starters it pushes a heck of a lot of paint around, creating the ability to make bold, impasto passages or thinner, more ethereal ones.

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I can use it to make a fairly straight edge with the straight, thin side of the tool, or use it t scrape down passage to create softer edges.

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I can use it as a blending tool, or a tool to separate out colors and make them stand out. In short, I can use it to exploit the properties of the paint in a way that is a nice variation from straight-on brushwork .

I first ordered the white tool, pictured above, left. Then then I discovered the black, which I like even better because you have greater versatility with both a long and a short edge. “Why not just use a palette knife,” you might ask? Well, I do love palette knife paintings but I always just end up switching back to brushes and reworking them because I have never been quite able to achieve that combination of softness and boldness I aim for. These little tools act like palette knives with more of a brush feel, if that makes sense.

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young


I’m still not ditching my paint brushes; they are the work horses in my studio. But I’m having fun playing around with these new tools and exploring what I can do with them in my paintings.

Change is Good (Part II)

In my last post I explained how I go about making changes to a previously completed painting that may need some minor tweaking to improve it. Today’s post deals with more drastic measures. This still life isn’t really that old, but almost since its completion I felt I wanted to do something different to the background. Both the shawl on the left and the angles on the right bothered me, as did the color combinations as they related to the foreground. All of these elements served to distract more than enhance the still life arrangement. 

Still life, version I

Still life, version I

So, after sanding, scraping and oiling out (as described in my previous post) my first thought was to create a very simple dark background, which is a classical approach to still life painting employed by a lot of painters through the ages. I also got rid of the awkward angle in the lower right portion of the table cloth, and carried the horizon line straight across.

Still life, version II

Still life, version II

I actually liked these changes, though without the background distractions it really brought out how evenly divided the painting was by the bottle of forsythias, making for not-so-interesting negative space on either side, only accentuated by the plain dark ground. The dark color also really brought out the remaining texture underneath, even when the paint layer was built up. So, I decided to play with it a bit, knowing I could always come back to the simple dark background if I really wanted to.

“Forsythia and Delft Blue”, Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young (click the image for details)

“Forsythia and Delft Blue”, Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young (click the image for details)

What I arrived upon felt to me to be both whimsical and old world at once. It almost reminds me of an antique screen or stage set of a decorative painted sky. The “clouds” served to break up the background space, and the softer, happier palette made me feel happier too. It can be a little scary to make these kind of changes but I’ve come around to the idea that  if the painting is nagging on me, the benefit of change can outweigh the risk. Have I ever “ruined” a painting doing this? Yes indeed. Occasionally my over-zealous scraping can poke a hole straight through the painting. Other times my changes may fail to satisfy me and I end up scrapping the whole thing entirely. But if I’m not satisfied with the painting as it is, it’s probably worth risking it. In any case, if I’m lucky, I have miles of canvas to go before I’m done.