About limitations on painting large

One of my Arboretum paintings slipped between the cracks last week, metaphorically speaking, so I thought I would keep to my weekly blogging schedule by discussing it. (And to be honest, I don’t yet have photos prepared for my other potential topics.) I call this one “Among the Japanese Maples”. Along with the Visitors Center painting that led off last week’s blog, it constitutes the largest size that I paint en plein air–16 by 20.

Ironically, my very first plein air painting was 20 x 24–that happened because I just didn’t know any better! It was in a Stan Mueller workshop, and eyebrows went up all around the field when I brought forth my canvas. Would you like to see the result?

York River Meander, 20×24
Not so bad for my first one? Of course, it was the only one I painted that whole day. Nowadays I often complete two paintings if I have both morning and afternoon to work.

If that original workshop had been with Stapleton Kearns, I would still be painting outdoors on the larger canvases. Stape argues that it is easier to paint large. I am a fast painter too, so I think it would have worked for me. But I did not have the right easel for it then, and still do not. For something this large, the best easel is a thing called the Gloucester easel, or a facsimile thereof. Think “teepee” and almost that big. The other two kinds of outdoor easels are the pochade box–basically a box containing paint and palette that sets up on a tripod with your canvas secured to the open lid–and the French or Julien easel, which is a bigger box with legs attached and an adjustable mast to secure large canvases. I have used both, and grew to prefer the pochade box because it is more lightweight and easier to set up.

I stretch occasionally to paint the 16 x 20 on my pochade box easel because (A) I need a large format for some reason–like the huge Arboretum exhibit room, or (B) I happen to have that size canvas on hand. It won’t fit on the lid of my pochade box–in fact it dwarfs the lid– so I have to clip it to one side, which is not very stable. But when you paint en plein air, you put up with a lot of unpleasantness–bugs, wind, cold, heat, sunburn . . . and wobble. I’m sure I am forgetting something else that belongs on that list.

Anyway, my Japanese Maple will be among the largest artworks in the Arboretum exhibit, and I just hope it shows up well in its frame on that wall.

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