Studio Paintings from Plein Air Drawings

18th century mill dam in Harvard Forest, Massachusetts. A cider mill, as a matter of fact.
18th century cider mill dam in Harvard Forest, Massachusetts.

One sees the prairie in layers: sky, grass, soil. And then there’s the forest, constructed from tall, thin strips: tree stems, stacked stones, waterfalls, a slice of sky at the top. One set of laminations lays out flat, the other stands on end.

The drawing, made while standing on the mossy bank just downstream. Graphite and pastel on 22" x 15" Rives BFK tan paper.
The drawing, made while standing on the mossy bank just downstream. Graphite and pastel on 22″ x 15″ Rives BFK tan paper.

It’s a nice theme and a way to re-imagine a few of the plein air drawings from Harvard Forest : as tall thin sections sliced out of the originals (in Photoshop) and enlarged in paint. Into each goes a tiny wood warbler from sketchbooks of the same period and place. American redstart, ovenbird, northern waterthrush, chestnut sided warblers.

Preparing wood panels, 48" x 20", Baltic birch with buff titanium gesso, 4 coats, sanded between. My studio now covered with a fine dusting of gesso powder. Did I mention I have a new studio?
Preparing panels of Baltic birch with buff titanium gesso, 4 coats, sanded between. A fine dust of powdered gesso has settled throughout my new studio. New studio. Has this been previously mentioned?
Three up. To be continued.
Three up, ready for a sealer of matte medium.
Early 19th century malt mill with American Redstart. This is the first round of color wash over the pencil, mostly burnt umber mixed with ultramarine acrylic and a little glazing liquid. Big wide brush. Fun and fast.
Early 19th century malt mill with American redstart. The first round of color is wash over pencil, burnt umber with ultramarine acrylic and a little glazing liquid mixed in. Big wide short-handled brush. Fun and fast. 20″ x 48″ Baltic birch cradled wood panel.

And in the process, an interesting thing happens. Each painting recalls, for better or worse, thoughts, moods, and whatever was playing in my ears when I drew them in in the first place (podcasts, audio books, the annoyingly redundant song of an American redstart). Moving the pencil over the exact pathways of the original lines unleashes some vivid flashbacks. Do you also experience art-triggered sense memories? Is there a neurologist in the house?

Happy Friday.

9 thoughts on “Studio Paintings from Plein Air Drawings

  1. Dory Rice says:

    Debby,
    i really admire your original Harvard Forest drawings. They capture the essence of New England woods so well! I grew up in Massachusetts, now live in Vermont so I know these woods.
    A quick question. For your originals are you using soft pastel or pastel pencil? Do you need fixative for the Rives BFK?
    Thanks in advance.
    Dory

    PS. I love your Copenhagen sketches too!

    1. zeladoniac says:

      Hi Dory, Thanks for your note. I came to really love those woods, and am glad to have gotten to spend so much time in them.

      On technique: I’m using soft and hard pastels- a mix of nupastels and various brands of soft types: mostly Ludwigs but also Unison, Great American, Sennelier and Mt. Vision. The pencil is a Kohinoor Triograph 6B. I try to be sparing with color, letting the paper be the dominant tone. Here’s a tip: never use dark pastels with this technique, especially colors darker than the pencil’s darkest marks. It looks really weird. Let the graphite be your deepest value. I’ve used fixative frequently with the Rives/pencil/pastel technique, but try to avoid it with all-pastel-on-sanded-paper paintings.

      Thanks for the good comments and questions. I hope you will give it a try yourself!

  2. Stanley Cotter says:

    It could be similar to the experience that a musician feels in revisiting an old familiar song. The muscle memories coincide with the emotions recalled. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Debbie Barnes says:

    I work in mapping and listen to audiobooks quite often. When I have to revisit an area I worked I hear the book again in my mind where I was in the book when I created a building or road. Not artistey but similar I think.

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