Capturing a feeling
Painting on site, from life is an exercise in letting go. I can't capture all the details in the small window of time I give myself for a single session (2-3 hours). Instead I need to capture the feeling of a place and time. That means I am wise to include only the elements necessary to convey my first impressions when looking at the scene. I ask myself, what is the focal point? Let that be the most interesting part of the painting and let the other details fade away. I'm trying to push myself more these days to choose subjects with a mood, usually lighting that is something other than mid-day, perhaps using a limited pallet.
I recently tried a sunset/evening painting in Bar Harbor because I wanted to capture that fleeting evening light and the glow of the town bandstand in its full glory.
I arrived earlier than the desired time (sunset) because I knew I would need extra time to sketch in the composition before laying down most of the colors. There were many long shadows that I simply ignored, knowing I would not be painting the sunlight. I waited until the sun went down to lay in most of the important values.
As the sun began to go down, I started laying in the darkest areas, and concentrating on making the light from the bandstand the brightest part of the painting. I quickly dashed in some blobs to suggest masses of people, which I would work out later.
Each second the light became more and more delicious. The bandstand was glowing more and more as time went on, and the faces of people int he crowd reflected that light. Kids ran circles around the bandstand. I did not attempt to paint them, but snapped a few photos at intervals to capture people in various activities for later reference. I was still focused on the values and the "feeling." When the band stopped, I had to as well. The painting was very unfinished at this point but I had enough to work with.
Later in the studio, I refined the composition and painted the people. I tried to be careful not to overly describe people and let the crowd be a general mass. I think it came out pretty well. The feeling of twilight definitely came through.