Saturday, April 29, 2017

Painting That Man Made Park

A friend was just was just mentioning that she is going to be doing a plein air event this year in a park that is mostly green grass and green trees, and did I have any suggestions! I thought a few of you might be interested in this topic as well.

First of all - I know how she feels about the green grass and green trees scenes! Everything feels flat and mechanical and uninteresting. But sometimes that is what we have to work with! I've come up with a couple of strategies.

Artistic License: Don't feel like you have to capture the scene exactly! Use your creativity. Look for the elements that you love, use that as your focal point, and then use the rules of composition to create an interesting painting and tell your story. Move mountains and trees! Change the colors! It's your world!

Light and Shadow: I think the biggest thing is to look for light and shadow patterns. Which is tough when you are painting plein air because they move! The trick is to paint them in quickly when you see the pattern you like - just get the shapes and values in there - and then don't change them! You can always refine the area, change color. But just leave those shadow patterns alone! I can't tell you how many hours I've spent and realized I was just repainting the shadows as they moved! Alternatively, you can always make them up! Just be careful to be consistent, identify the direction of your light and stick to it! When you have only a few elements to work with - grass and trees - light becomes very important.

What if?: The best question to ask yourself to liven up a scene. What if I added a path? What if I added some flowers in this focal area? What if I moved this awkward tree to a better location? What if I added some distant mountains?

Color: I often just push the season in the focal area, maybe a touch of autumn color or spring blossoms. Also try to find an area where you have some distance view, even if it is just more trees. Then you can make those much bluer. Or make up some distance! A peak through the break you created in the trees. Trunks and branches are a great place to add some browns, reds, oranges, purples, blues. Trunks in light and in shadow bring in different colors - warm and cool shades. Dead leaves! More opportunities for color. Dry grass areas. Also, don't forget, there are many many shades of green. Subtle variations in both hue, saturation and value can really make a huge difference. Light, dark, dull, bright, warm, cool.

Think of how you can make a grayscale painting, or a monochromatic painting and it can be very impactful! Value and composition first.

Here's one I did in just such a park. All grass and trees, but in one little area I found this footpath through a little grove with the sun brightly lighting up the field behind...

You can see I've simplified the background, taking out the buildings in the distance, just leaving some neutral blue greens back there. I pushed the color in the midground field to be greener and prettier. I played up the light and shadow patterns and added some flowers.

Here's a more extreme take. Again, a fairly boring grass and trees park, though this time there was a building housing the bathrooms!

As you can see, this one was truly just inspired by the scene! Ha! I added lots of flowers, added more dappled, turned the potty into a little house. Changed the direction of the path to lead into the painting instead of out and made it dirt instead of asphalt! Fun stuff :) Hmmm, maybe I needed a wizard or an elf walking the path with a tall ornate walking stick!

Well I hope this gives you some good ideas! Have fun painting out this summer!


  1. Amazing blog! Gave me such a great insight! I wish I had your imagination! What brand paints do you use? Love the colors! :)

    1. Thank you Neha! These are Golden Acrylic paints

  2. Nice post, Karen! Informative and authoratitive (in a very nice way). Meaning, you know what you're talking about!