An artist shares how he followed his muse and made his way into a rail yard to paint a burned out and abandoned train car en plein air. Disclaimer from Plein Air Today to our readers: When applicable, make sure you have permission to paint on location and that you are in a safe area before focusing on your painting.
BY THOM ROZENDAAL
From the train going north from Pisa I had already seen this burned out and abandoned train car several times before and had thought about trying to get an up-close look at it. I looked at the location on Google Maps and it didn’t look like it would be easy to reach, so I kind of procrastinated going in person, until recently.
I decided to give it a shot and took the bus to a nearby cemetery and got off one stop early. Then it was only a couple hundred meters by foot to reach the rail yard. It turned out to be a good decision to approach from that side, as all the active trains used the tracks on the opposite side, so I didn’t have to run across tracks that were in active use to get to my intended subject.
There was a gate but only intended for cars, and I could just walk through a gap on the side. Just past the gate there was evidence that some homeless people also frequented this part of town.
I had gone on a Sunday, expecting nobody to be working on or around any of the trains or machinery, but a little too late I noticed that there were some workmen clearing weeds from the side of the tracks. They were pretty far away so I crossed the overgrown tracks anyway to get closer to the abandoned train car.
I had a chance to look inside a burned out abandoned car. I thought that might make for a cool painting, the inside, but it was full of rubble and impossible to walk, let alone paint, in.
Next to this one there was a sort of loading bed type train car, with just a small crew cabin at each end. This afforded me the perfect elevation and cover to paint the burned out car from.
It was a bit cloudy, but luckily it didn’t rain in the end and the sun came through in the west a bit, creating a perfect spotlight on my subject while the background was still quite cloudy. I started as usual with a composition sketch and struggled a little bit with getting the perspective how I wanted it, and the subtle curvature of the sagging train cars threw me off a bit, but not too long afterward I started painting.
During the painting process I struggled a bit with the background, which I couldn’t seem to get the right shade and gradation of grayish blue and wasn’t sure how dark I wanted it to be. Besides that the painting also lingered a bit longer than usual in the ugly phase, which I think was because of all the details and the myriad of shades and colors on the train car’s rusty roof and graffiti-covered sides.
After around three hours or so I decided to call it, as I was happy with how the train looked and there were only some less important details like the wires left, which I did at home.
To what extremes have you gone to get that perfect scene you want to paint? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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