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Saratoga Car Show… The car I had hoped to paint, making the turn.

A vintage car festival at Saratoga State Park- a win-win, or so I thought! It was Saturday morning and I had the whole weekend ahead. After weighing my options for places to paint, I decided the car fest would be an ideal place to plein air paint. Stately brick buildings  provided the ideal backdrop for cars from the early 1900’s through my favorite decades, the 1960’s-1970’s. I was so excited to paint a few of the cars. The park was buzzing with action. Skidmore College was holding its graduation. It was the first seriously nice weekend. Luckily, I found an ideal parking spot and schlepped my gear to the show. Of course, before setting up, I had to walk around and gawk at some of the cars.  They were offering Ford Model-T car rides around the reflecting pool.  the old Model-T chugged along its course with happy passengers being transported back in time. I set up my easel so I could paint the car as it made its way around a turn in the gravel road. There was a big tree on its left as it turned. Perfect, I thought! Confident, I decided to paint a 12″ x 16″, a big change from the 6″x 8″ I had been doing. I got this! So, I thought. First mistake: my umbrella wouldn’t work. The sun was beating down on me and I couldn’t figure out how it attached to the easel. My second mistake was skipping breakfast and only having a granola bar and one warm water bottle with me.  My third mistake was attempting to paint on a panel primed only with Zinsser. I have decided to prime with gesso, but that’s a story for another day. Needless to say, my paint was sliding all over the panel which was extremely frustrating. And lastly, and the biggest irritation: people! Now normally, I don’t mind one or two random people stopping to peek at my painting. It’s actually sort of fun. But there was an onslaught of people. Person after person had to tell me their story about painting, cars, Saratoga. I just wanted to paint. It really got me thinking about plein air painting. I have been juried into a few plein air shows this summer. They will be my first competitive plein air events. The problem is, while I teach and love presenting material I am familiar with, when I am plein air painting, I just want to be left alone. Is this the norm? I couldn’t take it anymore. Tired, hungry and hot, I packed up my gear with a painting half done. I didn’t even include a car in the painting!

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My half done painting…missing the car.

After downing an extra-large ice water when I got home, I decided to venture back out in the afternoon to a more remote area. Ah….time for redemption. I painted a smaller panel, just a 6″ x 8″. Only a handful of people stopped by

with friendly dogs for me to pet! that was a win-win. Dogs, painting in solitude with the sound of the birds chirping. Two hours later, I was pleased with my plein air postcard. Life was good again!

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Plein Air postcard sketch.

Don’t wait for the lights to change!

Plein air painter in winter
Norwegian artist Frits Thaulow painting “En plein air” circa 1900

Last summer, I caught the bug. Bad. Everything changed for me. I was asked to teach a plein air workshop in our town. How hard can it be, I thought? I’m a studio painter and art teacher so I felt pretty good in my ability to teach a handful of adults. The workshop was in September. In June, I thought I should see what plein air painting was all about. I had painted outside once or twice before. I even owned a French easel. So, I packed up my supplies and headed out. The first painting I did was a hot mess. Working alla prima (all at once) in the studio was hard enough, but outdoors is an entirely different mindset. Changing weather, bugs, people and remembering everything were only a few of the challenges. But soon, I became addicted. I caught the plein air bug. It’s going around! More and more artists are finding painting from life is exhilarating and adrenaline-making. Fast forward to today, just a few months later. I now struggle painting from a photograph. While the numbers decrease, many hardcore plein air painters paint outside in winter.

Lisa David painting plein air outside in snow. I brought WAY too much.
The lovely birch tree in the sun with amber and violet tones.

Yesterday, I ventured outside to paint. It was about 25 degrees in upstate NY. I live near the Saratoga Spa State Park. The sun was out. I schlepped my gear (including hot chocolate) and found an old gnarly birch tree. It was blackened in a few areas and its shadow provided a strong compositional element. Two minutes after setting up, clouds rolled in and I lost the sun. It was almost immediate. My colorful violet shadows turned to drab shades of gray. The tree with its lovely highlights turned gray. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry sees his girlfriend in bad lighting and realizes she’s not that attractive! I stuck it out and did my best to paint the tree. I really wanted to use color and there just wasn’t much. Believe me, I looked. My hands started to get really cold despite using hand warmers in my mittens and boots. You may be asking, so why? Why do I feel compelled to paint outside in winter? Unless you have tried it, it’s hard to understand. Being outside, drawing, seeing and recording is supremely satisfying. It improves my skills and while yesterday’s painting is definitely not a favorite it will serve as a memory and a reminder. Lesson learned? Be ready because the lights sometimes change.

Best I could pull color from tree after grey clouds rolled in. Not much to see here….move on…..!

Stop Painting! For a little while, anyway.

Stop painting…for a little while, anyway!

Plein Air Painting by artist Lisa David

Saturday in the Park, 8″ x 10″ Oil on Panel Plein air painting by Lisa David. Painted outside on a cold (18 degrees) day in Saratoga State Park, upstate, New York.

Do a painting, post a painting, do a painting, post a painting, update website, send emails, order supplies, look through photo references, paint another painting, post another painting. See the problem? I do. I’m not stopping for reflection and honest critique. No learning, no reading. My rhythm is all about making. I mistakenly think, if I don’t paint, I will get out of the groove. Does this sound familiar?

I am realizing it’s okay to stop.  Artists need to pause and reflect. The paint will be there waiting. We need to evaluate what we did so we don’t keep making the same mistakes. This may mean reading a book. I have about a dozen that have been waiting for me. It may mean spending money on a workshop or a class. It might mean sitting and watching videos. Or it might mean getting a mentor. If all we do is paint and post, there may not be growth. Mistakes are good. Honest criticism is healthy. Learning feels good. As an art teacher, after every project, my students have a critique. We talk about what worked, what didn’t. We discuss what they would do differently next time? I need to apply this critique to my own work. SLOW DOWN. It’s okay to spend time relaxing with a good book about composition or color.  So instead of going into my studio, I’m going to critique a painting I just finished. Here it is. A plein air painting I did in a park. It was a mere 18 degrees. Speed was necessary. I did not work on it back in the studio.

Plein Air Painting by artist Lisa David

Saturday in the Park, 8″ x 10″ Oil on Panel Plein air painting by Lisa David. Painted outside on a cold (18 degrees) day in Saratoga State Park, upstate, New York.

I like the looseness. Trees in the back are a bit boring- too much the same. Figures are good, lose- a bit clumsy. Tone of yellow seems too green. Texture of weeds could have more tooth. Birch trees okay- like that there are 3. Next time, vary tree line, work on the yellow tones, etc. What did I learn? Maybe premix colors when it’s too cold. Also, stop while painting and clean palette at each interval (foreground, middle ground and background). I’m sure there is much more I could learn and improve on this plein air study, but I’ll spare you, you get the point. Now, to go read!

Who’s Thirsty?

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Who’s Thirsty? 10″ x 10″ Oil on Gessobord

We didn’t have water bottles- there was no sippy box, pouch or fancy energy drink. If you were outside playing, and you were thirsty, you would simply turn on the spigot, bend down a bit, wait for about 10 seconds until the cold water reached the end of the hose, then take a long, long gulp swallowing, swallowing and swallowing. Of course, you would then offer the hose to the next sweaty, out of breath neighborhood friend. If you were on your game that day, you might remember to turn off the hose. Or, your father might step in  huge puddle and yell out ” Who left the dam hose on?”

Saratoga Ginger

Saratoga GInger

Saratoga Ginger

Remember Saratoga Vichy Water? Well, they also made Saratoga Ginger Ale! Of course, everyone had the Vichy water. My mother had it for every “adult” party. Each time there was a spill, it was “Grab the Vichy water!!” Not gonna lie, we usually had Canada Dry Ginger Ale. I resurrected this bottle from the Round Lake Antique Fest and thought I’d put the little sister of Vichy in the spotlight. What is Vichy water, anyway?

Frozen Pink Lemonade

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Frozen Pink Lemonade

After  ripping  the plastic strip off the can, removing the aluminum disk from  the end, I would hold that can for a few seconds then wait for the “scccuuuupppppp” sound as the plop of pink creamy ice fell into the pitcher. I remember being in such a hurry to make it that filling 3 whole cans of water seemed like an eternity. The sticky, gooey mess would be left on the counter, along with whatever utensil could find to make it. Then, after selecting a glass as impressive as this pink drink, I would find the perfect spot to enjoy it. The ritual involved with pink lemonade hasn’t changed much and while buying a carton may seem easier, there is something about the canned frozen pink lemonade that remains  my prefered method of classic, summer-must enjoyment.

Shaken,not stirred.

What is it about the Martini that reeks of class? Fancy glass? Olives in a drink? I would love to sit down with Geotge Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffanys) and enjoy just one Marini. It’s a flirty drink- you would never make one for yourself and sit on your couch drinking it. I can just imagine the music spewing out of the restaurants in the sidewalks of Saratoga, say in 1965. How great would it be to have just one Martini sitting on that sidewalk?

Note: Not even one Martini was consumed for this painting.

RED raspberries!

Lisa David Red Raspberries

Red Raspberries, 6″ x 6″ Oil on gesso board

Red Raspberries

I never knew growing up that there were such things as black raspberries and red raspberries….I just thought raspberries. Even though I loved Stewarts black raspberry ice-cream, I thought all raspberries were the same! The window for ripe raspberries is slim in New York. I found out recently, my father has some growing in his backyard, most likely from a bird dropping its seeds! I always feel like a thief scoping out neighbors yards or the sides of the roads for raspberries. Little did I know they were in my back yard all along! Here’s to the raspberry…red & black…living in harmony!