I left my “day job” early on Friday afternoon and set off to find something to paint. The heavy cloud cover we had earlier in the day had cleared leaving almost cloudless blue skies, no breeze and warm sunshine.
I drove toward Albany’s Princess Royal Sailing Club, checking out every little side street that looked like it might get me close to the water. Eventually I found the perfect spot – a spectacular view, quiet street and almost 100% shade from a small tree.
It was around 3pm when I started painting. This meant the light wasn’t going to change dramatically but it also meant the light was a little cool. I anticipated the light getting warmer as the sun lowered and I began painting with a rough compositional wash of Australian red gold to get rid of the white gesso.
The yachts at the sailing club seemed like an obvious focal point but the water was mirror-flat and the reflection of the distant trees was what really caught my attention so that’s what I was going to focus on. The boats can wait until another day.
Wary that a breeze might come in any time and change everything, I made sure to get the reflection worked out before I spent much time on other areas. The sky wasn’t likely to change much and the trees would just get warmer but with the sun over my left shoulder, the shadows wouldn’t shift around enough to worry about.
I was standing on the verge beside a suburban street and soon attracted the attention of local residents who walked over and chatted with me as I painted. Some artists are put off by this but I quite enjoy the interaction. I used to be a signwriter and soon got used to people wanting to ask questions as I painted shop windows and walls. Traditional signwriting (with paint, brushes and a mahl stick) is just one of those things that attract the public’s attention – especially the mahl stick for some reason! It often seemed that every third person would ask “what’s the stick for?” I often joked about getting a t-shirt printed on the back with a picture of a mahl stick and the words “it’s for resting on!” The other public favourite was “why did you bother laying out where the letters should go if you’re not going to follow your layout?” Never a dull moment.
Plein air painting seems to share that public fascination so it’s worth coming to terms with it if you’re going to paint in public places – of course it helps if the painting is going well at the time and if the people are pleasant and don’t tell you your initial wash in doesn’t look the right colour or something.
Sorry, drifted off track a bit there. So anyway, people were watching and chatting with me while I painted but I was especially surprised when it turned out one lady in the growing group already owned two of my paintings! We’d never met before and she had no idea who I was until she mentioned “Andy Dolphin” in conversation. Small world. Cue Twilight Zone theme music now….
To top it all off, I was happy with the image I’d captured and the real scene took on a whole new quality as I was packing up – one of those fleeting displays of subtle pinkish-lilac light that we’d all love to capture if we could paint fast enough. It lasted less time than it took to pack up but I snapped a photo of it for future reference. The breeze still hadn’t come in by the time I drove away.
I’m going back one day and see what else this spot has to offer. I wonder what the odds are that I’ll get another sunny afternoon with no breeze? It was a perfect afternoon.
Here’s a bonus picture. It’s another digital painting done in Photoshop. This is pretty much how I recall the colours as I was packing up my painting gear. Click on the image to see an almost full-size version.