Artist Suzie Baker (Color Magic for Stronger Painting) talks about her experience and her work at the last Laguna Plein Air Invitational.
I was a participating artist in the 2019 Laguna Plein Air Invitational when this early morning scene along the boardwalk on Main Beach caught my attention. More than the subject matter, this painting is about light and shadow. Painting a sunrise en plein air presents a particular challenge. The light is incredibly fleeting in the early hours.
My plan of attack for paintings like this is to plan my composition, establish my drawing, arrive early to set up, and paint the areas most affected by the light fast, before I lose it. This painting marks a point in time at 7 a.m., right before the sun crested the distant hills. Once the sun broke free from its hiding place, the soft, diffused morning light became sharp and intense. If I had kept chasing the light after that, the original intent of my painting would have been lost. To avoid losing “my first love,” I returned to the same spot by the boardwalk four times to complete this 16 x 20” painting.
On the third morning, I arrived to find the beach totally obscured by dense fog. One of the great things about plein air events is that I often find myself painting in conditions I wouldn’t have ordinarily chosen, with gratifying outcomes. The heavy fog diverted my plan to carry on with myFirst Guard piece, and I came up with this composition instead. The heavy blanket of haze simplified the scene and made the view change entirely. So, here’s to holding plans with an open hand and getting out to paint on foggy days!
By nature, my plein air paintings tend to be painterly and responsive, especially in times of fleeting light. I wanted to explore the concept ofFirst Guardagain in my studio, so I used my plein air experience, on-site color information, and photo resources to compose this 12 x 36” studio version of the scene. To achieve color harmony, I used only four colors: Gamblin Ivory Black, Transparent Earth Red, Cobalt Blue, Indian Yellow, and White. Limiting your palette is an excellent way to hold color harmony and learn what can be accomplished with just a few colors.
I often recommend my students limit their colors as they are learning. A good basic palette
Transparent Earth Red, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow (or Cad Yellow Light), Alizarin Crimson, Titanium White. You can mix most anything from those colors. Use them long enough, and you will understand the breadth these colors can reach. You will also become acquainted with what they are not able to do and can start integrating new colors into the mix to take up the slack.