Today a little boy saw me painting, and exclaimed, “I remember you from last summer!”
I have always dreamed that I would own an old house, with red roof and and a big porch, with a swing and a backyard with cherry and apple trees and a flower garden. In that house, I would have a bunch of little children, a dog and a cat, a big kitchen with double oven and lots of counter space for cooking and chopping vegetables and an art studio with northern light and big windows so that I could paint without leaving the house. Unfortunately, or fortunately dreams don’t always come true exactly the way we dream them. I have a small, ranch style house and a compact family. My studio is in the basement. It has western light that sometimes completely blinds me in the afternoon, but I am lucky to have real windows and some natural light there at all. Even though my basement floods sometimes and I am forced to evacuate all my paintings and art supplies before they get destroyed, I am happy with what I have because it is my house.
When I was painting en plein air last March, I was looking for colorful, old houses. Early March sky was gray most of the time with occasional snow flurries and fast moving stormy clouds. An old Victorian house, painted with whimsical colors, looked brighter than it would on a sunny summer day. It looked like its best days and time of prosperity of its inhabitants were far behind and forgotten. It had bright red roof, a big porch and a nice view on the mountains and downtown Roanoke. Across the street, there was a an empty commercial building for rent with lots of room in the front entrance for me to set my easel. I set my art supplies, did a sketch, or two and started painting. Painting on a windy day is not easy. Sometimes, I have to hold my brushes with a rock, or a stick so that they don’t blow away. On days like that, warm hat and gloves are my best friends. It is not easy to paint in those circumstances, but for some reason I like when it is harder to work on a painting. I like that I have to hurry up and leave early before I am finished. Harsh weather makes me more focused on painting and working quickly does not allow me to kill my painting by working on it too much. My experience of cold, wind, rain, or sun can be visible in my painting. That is why plein air painting is so special and different than studio painting. It captures the moment.
While working on my house with the red roof, I imagined how it was to live there at the beginning of twentieth century. What conversations had place on the porch. Did the neighbors stop by to chat? How many people ate at the dining room table? Then I started thinking about the changing sky and kept mixing colors and changing the clouds from white to gray. The construction of the house was complicated. I tried to get it right, but to paint only what I see, not what I know. The rest is just a shadow, or a blur. Impression is more important than a realistic representation. Suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted by loud music that came from the house next door being renovated: some construction workers were talking and whistling a tune. The wind blew again, the clouds changed and I rushed to pick up my art supplies and called it a day.
Last winter, I went to an art store that was closing down its business, and I bought on sale a simple, wooden pleinair easel. After my purchase, it took me a while to gather everything that I needed, including some courage to actually use that easel en pleinair painting. Finally, the day came, when after feeding my family in the morning and setting them off to work and schools, I took my easel, paints and canvas, along with a sketchbook and whole bunch of other art supplies and went on my painting adventure. I hadn’t painted en pleinair since art school so I was a little bit concerned about how the painting process would go with cold, winter weather conditions, other people watching me painting and my self doubt. I have to admit that self doubt is my biggest enemy that I have to fight almost every single day.
I did not take me long to find a painting spot since I have been planning to paint outside for a few months. There was a three story house that I saw on the way to YMCA, while driving my daughter to her swim practice twice a week that I wanted to paint. The house was old, big and blue and it was glowing on the gray, winter background.
When I started painting, all my fears disappeared. I forgot about cold weather, people watching me and found my comfort in painting. Painting from observation can be very calming. After years of painting from photographs, it felt so good to just observe the world with its colors and changing light and react without any expectations. Painting pleinair is a way of meditating. By the end of my session, my fingers were numb and my nose was drippy and red. I gathered my art supplies and went home.