Lessons On The Road

It's been a long time since I posted to this blog. Pam and I sold our house and it took a few years to permanently move ourselves to the seacoast area of New Hampshire. We moved our living space and studio a few times in those same few years. Yikes!

We are happily all settled now and I want to jump back into blogging on a regular basis. The seacoast area of New Hampshire and Southern Maine really inspires and it is my sincere desire to inspire others as we continue to teach and explore all the possibilities and nuances of plein air and studio painting. I hope you enjoy My Painterly Approach. ~David


Lessons On The Road

I first saw the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming at the age of 22 during a cross country adventure with a couple of high school friends. We camped in Big Horn National Park for a few days and I have always remembered vividly, how the Wyoming landscape and sky stretch on forever, and how the mountains rise up majestically and reminds oneself that God really does exist.

This June, I flew to Big Horn for two weeks of painting with a group of artists from New England. I have always wanted to return to the area with my paint box in hand, and so when I was asked a year ago about this trip, I knew that I had to go. It was an exciting adventure and painting Wyoming was a new challenge that I approached with a keen sense of awe and wonder. The hour and a half drive from the tiny airport in Gillette to Big Horn where we were staying, quickly reminded me just how big the west is and how it would take several lifetimes to experience it all and a few more lifetimes to capture just a small amount of it on canvas. My revisit to this part of Wyoming is all part of a bigger plan including a show in the future involving all the artists who participated. I’ll expand on this in more detail as soon as the plans come together.

From Wyoming, I flew into Denver and then on to Boston. My car was waiting for me there and I had packed it three weeks earlier with everything I’d need to compete in the Plein Air Richmond event that would be starting in two days. It is interesting and rather time consuming to prepare and pack for two big painting trips simultaneously. It took almost a week of preparation to have things ready for both trips. Some supplies would be shipped to Wyoming and some would be packed into the car. I wondered when I arrived at each location if I had forgotten to pack something important. After a quick days rest from a rather long day of flying, I began making the long drive to Richmond Virginia. After 13 hours of driving, I arrived in Richmond in time to get my panels stamped at the Brazier Gallery for the week long competition and then met my host family for a wonderful little dinner and some nice conversation.

To go from painting the wide open spaces of Wyoming to painting the urban scenes of downtown Richmond is a rather odd transition and a complete change of mindset. In Wyoming it was a daily occurrence to be painting while deer, wild turkeys, prong horn and the most adorable long eared bunny rabbits, kept watch of what I was painting. In Richmond, I was zooming in and out of heavy traffic and trying to locate parking as I searched out the painting spots. It’s a wonderful location, just a very different environment. Plus now I was painting under the pressure of the event. In Wyoming I was just immersed into painting each day for the sake of exploration, with a ‘let’s see what happens’ kind of approach.

There’s a lot of history and beauty to Richmond that makes it quite special. I don't usually paint urban scenes, but Richmond supplies a lot of great subject matter and it was easy to immerse myself into the idea. The James River runs through the city and with lots of parks and pedestrian bridges, there was plenty of inspiration all around. I found myself attracted to the view at the top of this post. The old Main Street Railroad Station building, combined with a contemporary modern part when it was renovated in 2003, was quite striking. The old train car and the red tenement style building added to the diversity of old and new and I had to paint it. There was variation within all the reds that leaned towards purple in the train car and orange in the roof of the old train station. I found that these slight variations bathed in warm sunlight was integral to the feel of the painting. The transparency and overall blue-green color and value of the sky reflections in the windows of the newer building was super important to the essence of the painting. The heat of July in Richmond reached critical mass during the week of the event and I painted this with the sun at my back in temps that reached 103-105 degrees with the heat index. I was also standing on hot reflective pavement. I painted it from 7:30-10:30 AM, over a two day period. I held a 20x24 inch canvas panel over my head with my left hand to keep the sun off my panel and head. I was thrilled when the painting was awarded second place in the plein air event.

When you're on the road, you do what you have to do to get your work done and you take away what you can from each moment. I try to learn from these moments and with each painting. As the saying goes, nothing learned is nothing gained. In Wyoming I woke up at 5:30 every morning and skipped breakfast and coffee to paint the mountain views by 6:15before the sun came around and lit the mountain in full light. It took a couple of days to realize this. I would eat a protein bar as I worked and saved breakfast until about 10:30. In Richmond, I ate breakfast first so that I'd have the energy I needed to paint in the heat and humidity and I began working by 7:30-8:00 AM. Immediately after Richmond, I met a good friend and painter in Front Royal Virginia, by the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and we explored and painted an area that neither of us had been to before. It was interesting to paint these mountains in comparison to the Big Horn Mountains. Overall, they were far enough away that the atmosphere created by the heat and humidity of July, made them appear as a magnificent blue haze. The lesson on the road here was cemented quickly. We simply looked for scenes where we could emphasize the haze to a great extent and therefore made the most out of our subject matter.

Elements & Principles of Design

I recently ran a workshop for the Foxboro Art Association in Massachusetts on using the elements and principles of design in landscape painting. I explained and illustrated the use of the elements and principles with a digital slide presentation followed by a painting demonstration. 

Making use of the elements and principles of design allows the painting to become more than just the sum of its parts.

This is the stuff that makes up a painting. Every painting needs to be composed. Are you a painter who spends time thinking about the principles of design to best compose your paintings or do you more or less wing it and go with what looks good? I firmly believe that a lot of good paintings can be made stronger with a little more thought given to the arrangement of the composition. By the way, I am completely guilty of just winging it sometimes!

Edgar Payne wrote in his book, Composition For The Outdoor Painter; that an artist should 'mix brains with paint.' His examples of different compositional armatures in the book are outstanding and clearly demonstrate a thinker behind the brush. His use of these armatures within his paintings make his work stand out above a lot of landscape work. When a painter thinks about these compositional ideas along with the principles of design, they have a really good shot of simplifying their subject matter to the essentials and can begin painting the relationships of objects, along with relationships of value and color that add strength and unity to the painting. In other words, they PAINT a painting rather than copy or render things. 

Making good use of the elements and principles of design allows the painting to become more than just the sum of its parts. 

By utilizing the principles of design when organizing a painting, it allows the artist to still explain the big truths about nature but it also allows the artist to use his or her inventiveness in the final product.

In the coming year, I plan on making the use of these elements and principles of design a focus in my weekly painting classes and also in my plein air workshops. I'm in the process of also making it available as an online class.


Below is a very quick sketch done in class showing an example of working from a photo reference and strengthening the design using the elements and principles. I rearranged shapes, changed sizes and pushed the compositional movement towards a radial design with a strong diagonal movement.

Day 11-19 Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

This project still fascinates me. I realized about half way through the 30 day project that trying to crank out a painting each day just to meet my own self imposed deadline was rather senseless. My normal busy schedule of classes and deadlines for other paintings etc; was already a rather full plate. I started to find myself feeling anxious to get a painting completed just for the sake of getting it posted. After a couple days of real bombs (which were scraped completely) and other obligations that got in my way, I decided that It was alright to change my strategy and I made it a new personal goal to complete the 30 paintings as time allowed for it. I wanted to learn and gain new ideas from doing the project. Spending time thinking about what I was trying to capture in each painting from my color notes and photo references made the most logical sense. I tend to be very direct with my painting procedure, but I am a thinker. I think about a painting a lot before I ever touch brush to canvas. 

I personally wish that there were more painters in this world who spent  more time thinking about what they are trying to say in a painting along with giving more thought to composition, color, type of light etc instead of just copying everything before them. Or worse, and we see it a lot; painters who essentially just copy themselves over and over and over again. I've found myself doing it at times. It's actually rather easy to fool ourselves into believing that we are seeing things with fresh new eyes and approaching each painting with an emotional investment, when actually we are just on auto pilot. We reach for the same green, we make the same marks, the trees have to look a certain way, water is done like this etc etc. We start to paint from habit instead of painting from instinct and emotion. What results are formulaic paintings or paintings that look like everybody else. There are a lot of those paintings floating around. This is not a rant but an observation. 

For me personally, when I find that I am not emotionally invested in a painting, I take a step back to ask myself why. The painting experience is about having a conversation with my subject matter and therefore, expressing something that might not be readily seen in the painting but felt. Paintings that evoke an emotion from the viewer are the paintings that matter. Without that connection, a painter is just recording things on a canvas. Robert Henri said that the world doesn't need another 'pretty' picture and is he ever right. 

The Fleeting Glimpses & Memory project has made me have to think harder back in the studio about that emotional connection that I felt looking at the subject. Even color notations that I made on location took on a whole different meaning back in the studio. The notes gave me a starting point, but the actual color mixes that eventually were applied to the canvas were more about trying to recall the feeling of the color and were never exactly as they had been written down. I think all good paintings tend to evoke an impression or sense of place beyond just stating the obvious. Wouldn't it be an amazing feat if a painter could thoroughly intoxicate the viewers senses with this intangible quality.

Here are photos of paintings 11 through 19. The images are also posted on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Lussier-Plein-Air-Painting-Workshops/397547803746
and also on my Dailypaintworks gallery page http://www.dailypaintworks.com/allartists/#/artist=lussier,david&mode=search