Brian Bailey, Rock Creek, Oil on Canvas, 9″ x 12″ © 2016
I visited my parents in Montana about a month ago and spent some time trying to sort through the boxes and bins of things that I’ve been intending to take with me over the last 10 years or so. I came across this painting of Rock Creek near Red Lodge, Montana that I believe I started painting in 1998. My uncle, Jim Poulson, took me on a painting trip to help me figure out how to use my newly acquired easel and oil paints. Jim is an amazing landscape artist and definitely one of my biggest art influences. I remember him helping me figure out the composition and how to start with shades of red under the trees to give them life and keep the green from becoming too dominant. It’s amazing how early lessons in life can come back to you and have renewed meaning.
When I found the painting, it was mostly as you see it above. But, the lower-left corner, in front of the tree, was a flat patch of permanent green that had been scraped off and left unfinished, until now. I spent some time over the course of an afternoon in my studio to finally finish Rock Creek. It’s amazing to me how connected I feel to this painting. It was from a time before I knew many of the conventions of art and composition but it feels like a very honest representation of what I really know about painting. Jim was a great teacher and I’m glad to have found this, to remind me of our painting trip. Maybe I’ll get the rest of my stuff from my parents house next time…
I woke up early yesterday and drove down the coast from San Francisco to take in the early morning hours at the foot of Mt. Montara and do some plein air painting. I took pictures with my cell phone camera to help share the experience. After a short climb up some steep trails with my easel and supplies in tow I settled on a spot where the sun was casting a shadow over the side of a hill dotted with trees. Here is the spot with the lighting as I painted it.
And here is my basic setup for oil painting outdoors:
I forgot two important things on this outing, water and bug spray. I should know by now that each of these can make painting much more pleasant but I still managed to really enjoy the day.
The sun was shining but with the Pacific Ocean just to the right of the picture and a bit of fog hanging around, I felt a chill and a coolness to the landscape so I started with an ultramarine blue underpainting to help relate the finished painting to how I experienced the morning.
Over the next couple of hours, I developed each section using the underpainting as a guide for value relationships and leaving small flakes of the underpainting exposed here and there in the final painting which took on a cool and shadowy feeling.
By the time I finished painting, the light had changed quite a bit and the hill in the foreground no longer had the large shadow cast over its side, as you can see here:
Changes in light, clouds, and weather present some special challenges to painting outside but I always try to keep in mind that I’m not copying what I’m seeing, I’m responding to it and the painting takes on a life of its own at some point.
This was my first trip to Mt. Montara at McNee Ranch State Park but I’ll definitely be going back for the beautiful views and relative seclusion from life in the city. I’m finding that the bay area has quite a few nearby place where you can forget how close you are to a big city and explore nature. I’m sure there will be more examples of plein air paintings in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and, always, thanks for your comments!