Ryan S. Brown is a gifted young artist who has been offering classical training through the Center for Academic Study and Naturalist Painting (CAS) in Utah and who will be on the program at the Plein Air Convention in Monterey, California next April (www.pleinairconvention.com). He recently invited students to join him in painting on location. Here’s a summary of his plein air demonstration.
“We were out painting the fall leaves and working on extended outdoor studies,” Brown says. “I’ve hiked this path a lot, and there are a few spots that have stood out to me as offering potentially great compositions. The rocks encircled a pool of water and seemed to offer a ready-made subject, one that would accentuate the movement of the water. I didn’t have to change things around to make the composition work.
On a white panel, the artist uses thin paint to establish the composition of shapes and movements.
“I used a full palette of lead white, cadmium yellow light, Blue Ridge brand yellow ochre, vermillion extra, vermillion, madder lake, viridian, sap green, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, and asphaltum. The initial lines were meant to place things properly in terms of their relationships to one another and to make sure they were placed on the canvas in a way that would properly capture the composition I was hoping to achieve. Once I established the placement of all the major elements in the drawing, I mixed up large piles of the general color, taking the average of all the major masses and mixing colors that matched those averages as accurately as possible.”
After blocking in the darkest shapes, Brown establishes the rocks and the splash of the waterfall.
Brown goes on, “I then massed in the canvas with those colors, adjusting them as necessary — colors always look different on the canvas than on the palette. That gave me a pretty good overall impression and allowed me to more effectively concentrate on more specific aspects of the painting. I find that the sooner I can establish a solid overall impression, the easier it is for me to see the end of the painting in the beginning, and the less likely it is that I will lose this impression as I refine the painting.
The instructor continues to articulate details while being mindful of the compositional unity of the painting.
“When I start to finish a painting — which for me in these types of studies really just means understanding — I study specific aspects of the painting and work them out until it satisfies me and can be explained clearly enough for others to understand it. Then I move on to surrounding elements until I have studied everything and explained everything. The process is much more about learning than it is about composition or making a final picture. I have matured enough in my ability to begin to balance elements of composition into my studies, and to think about making a ‘finished’ painting out of my studies.
The completed painting: “Hobble Creek Pool,” 2012, oil, 12 x 16 in.
“The fact that that a plein air painting can serve as a study is more important to me than having it stand as a finished work of art — the decision takes all the pressure off me to try to produce something for others and allows me to settle comfortably into the process of understanding something for myself. All of this understanding goes into every other painting I make that has the intention of being exhibited and sold.”
For more information, visit www.ryansbrownart.com.