Geeta Pattanaik's plein air setup
Geeta Pattanaik's plein air setup

A Plein Air Today Reader Spotlight

by Geeta Pattanaik

Earlier this year in California, I thought I would try to capture some of the snowy mountain sights in a plein air painting or two. I scouted out a scene where I would get a good view of the mountains, not impeded by houses, and with a good composition, I did some sketches and did a drawing on an Arches watercolor block, so I could come back the following morning when the mountains would be side lit and have plenty of shadows to paint.

I got there early and to my great disappointment, the mountain was shrouded in mist and clouds. However, I turned left and another range was visible above the haze. I painted the skyline over the mountain and turned the block upside down to complete the sky. I then turned the watercolor block the right way up and did the basic shadow shapes of the mountain, cutting into the deeper recesses.

Next, I wet a narrow band for the haze above the mountains and while the paper was still damp, I put in some darks for the distant trees below the haze. There were many buildings interspersed between the trees, so I left bits of the paper as whites or floated some color here and there to suggest them. Working down from there, while doing the vegetation, I took it down to the line of the white fencing. I worked some green and darks in rectangles to suggest where I could see through the fencing.

The watercolor painting of the mountain range, in progress
The watercolor painting of the mountain range, in progress

Painting negatively in watercolor is much easier if one has a plan and this time it worked out for me. I suggested the shadows on the fence to make it three-dimensional. I also painted some of the greenery in front of the fence, then painted the sidewalk and road. I finally painted the trees by the fence to unify the foreground, background, and sky.

Since I’ve sketched all my life and have painted en plein air since 2007, I have learned to have a plan, but then to go with the flow and change it when something happens.

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