Everything Is Relative

"Trying to control value introduces us to a phenomenon we experience constantly in painting: Everything is relative."

--quotation from my plein air workshop hand-out

"Bridge Over the Lehigh River" oil on gessoboard, 9x12'' 

I had the pleasure of taking another Plein Air Painting Workshop this past weekend.  (I wrote about my first workshop, back in October, in this blog post: Taking Notes.)  

It was such a treat for my senses, spending two days by the river, in the warm sunshine, just painting...  

Me, doing my favorite thing in the world.

On Friday, we met at Scott Park, in Easton, PA.  Our teacher, Adriano Farinella, went over some of the general concepts, which included his own insights, as well as those of John Carlson (Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting) and Mitchell Albala, all plein air painters.  Some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom:

  • Trying to control value introduces us to a phenomenon we experience constantly in painting: Everything is relative.
  • Ultimately, judging values is not a matching exercise between subject and painting.  It is a comparative exercise among the values within the painting itself.
  • If something disappears when you squint, it is probably not worth including.
  • A good picture is a series of good corrections, a striking of balance, so do not expect too much from the mere 'lay-in.' 

I wonder if Life is a series of good corrections, too?  So many parallels...

Adriano, giving me some guidance on my value study.

My personal goal for taking this workshop was to improve my understanding and perception of Value.  When I explained this to Adriano on Saturday, he suggested I start with some value studies, using gray-scale paint tip markers.  Afterwards, I was to attempt the same study, using oil paints: just French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber, white, and gamsol.  No medium.  Here's the result:

A scene with a tree on the other side of the river.

Bridge over the Lehigh River.

Some notes I took:

  • Be more conscious of edges, where things start and end.
  • Put the different values next to each other.
  • Juggle the values: keep them in balance.
  • Seriously blur your eyes.  Try to establish dark and light patterns.
  • Pay attention to Line and Value, but don't get swept up by either of them.  

(That's definitely something I do...get swept up in things...)

Adriano helps Charles, another student.

Adriano helps Charles, another student.

Kathy, another student, at her easel, doing some great work.

Adriano helps Kathy with her painting.  On the right is Brian, another student, and a really wonderful person.  He seems so joyful about painting, and so young-at-heart.  I wish I had a better picture of him!

Adriano, painting.

On Sunday, I used my value studies as a jumping board to start a painting that was all about Value.  (You can see the finished painting at the top of this blog post: "Bridge Over the Lehigh River.")  I used a limited palette (see my older blog post, Limitations and Freedom in Art and Life), a "Zorn" type of palette, which included French Ultramarine, Burnt Umber, white, and, towards the end, some yellow ochre.  (If I were to continue this painting, or others in the future, I would eventually add in some cadmium red.)

"Everything is relative."

So, in conclusion, it was a successful weekend!  I do feel as if I learned a lot, and managed not to get too overwhelmed by the challenges.  This paragraph from the workshop pamphlet, written by Adriano, certainly helped to keep my demons at bay, so I'll share it with you: a happy ending.