Mark Boedges brings years of work and a honed selection of equipment with him to paint outdoors. Like what?

Like both bristle brushes and synthetic mongoose brushes in sizes from 0 to 18.

“Down the Mountain,” by Mark Boedges, oil, 24 x 36 in.

Take a closer look at “A Winter Harmony,” the oil painting that earned Boedges First Place in the December-January contest of the PleinAir Salon, and you’ll see a variety of textures, brushstrokes, and painting effects. His technique does much to make the scene lively.

Boedges points out that a snow scene on an overcast day is quite muted. The artist lives in Vermont, so he has seen his share of overcast days in winter. And he’s done his share of painting just such subject matter.

“Height of Summer,” by Mark Boedges

“I’ve worked on getting down this kind of scene for years,” says Boedges. “In sunlit scenes, there’s all kinds of color happening. When it’s overcast, everything flattens out and you lose a lot of color. It’s almost like photography does a better job in this kind of situation.”

Boedges says that in sunlight, snow takes on many colors, but it’s much more subtle on cloudy days. His solution is to pull out a few bright spots, and play up the color that is there. “I have to rely on the trees and grasses,” he says. “The snow had mostly fallen from the trees, so there was a good balance.” Deadfall in the foreground gave Boedges additional opportunity to paint some warm colors into the picture.

“Our Start,” by Mark Boedges, oil, 18 x 30 in.

The bit of bright white on the rock near the center of the composition may look straight out of the tube, but Boedges says it is white mixed with a tiny bit of phthalocyanine blue — he finds most tube whites too yellow. If that accent seems like it was applied by a palette knife, it probably was. Boedges uses a medium-size trowel-shaped palette knife with a bent neck for parts of his painting process.

In fact, Boedges utilizes various tools at various times to give his paintings a complicated sense of texture and depth. He described his process for this particular piece, which is representative of his approach. Boedges first applied a thin wash of color with a bristle brush to set the composition. He then applied thicker paint with a synthetic mongoose brush to establish the tree trunks and similar elements.

Boedges moves around the surface, allowing a section to dry a bit before returning to it. This allows him to go back with a bristle brush to add texture to trees, to suggest grasses, and the like, with a drybrush technique. Passages painted with the palette knife offer another kind of texture and experience, along with an efficient way of painting lines, such as thin branches.

“Early Winter Cover,” by Mark Boedges, oil on linen, 12 x 16 in.

“If it’s not too cold, I can stay out there for four hours painting,” says Boedges. “There’s scale at work here — these techniques are great for smaller pieces. But I can’t stand out there and paint branch by branch. In the end, I want it to look kind of like what it looks like in reality, but not branch by branch.”

Boedges is clearly a person who has investigated which tools work best for him. But his answers to questions, and even more so his paintings, indicate that the most important thing in his toolbox is experience. He has tried various methods, analyzed his work, built upon his discoveries, and learned when to let things stand. “You rely on a whole lot of happy accidents for a successful painting,” says Boedges. “And it took years to get all those happy accidents to land just right.”

“Cliff House,” by Mark Boedges, oil, 20 x 24 in.

In April $21,000 in prizes will be awarded to the annual Salon winners at the 2015 Plein Air Convention & Expo. The PleinAir Salon consists of six bi-monthly contests, with the First, Second, and Third Place winners of each contest, and the category winners, automatically entered into the annual competition. First prize in the annual competition is $15,000 cash and the publication of the winning image on the cover of PleinAir magazine, along with a feature story. Second Place earns an artist $3,000 and an article in the digital edition of PleinAir magazine. Third Place yields $1,500 in cash. Three additional finalists win $500. Aside from First, Second, and Third Place overall, categories include Best Oil, Best Pastel, Best Watercolor, Best Acrylic, Best Plein Air, Best Building, Best Figure in the Landscape, Best Floral, Best Landscape, Best Outdoor Still Life, Best Nocturne, Best Water, and Best Artist Under 30.

The winner of each bi-monthly contest is featured in this e-newsletter and profiled on OutdoorPainter.com. Sue Simpson Gallagher, the owner of Simpson Gallagher Gallery in Cody, Wyoming, will jury the current contest, which has a deadline of March 15. This is the last chance for painters to become eligible to win the grand prize for 2015. Enter now at the Salon’s website.

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