"Outback" En Plein Air Series, 2020
This all begins with the incredible view behind our home in Rochester, Minnesota. Both my wife and I grew up on a farm and enjoy the peace and quiet of country life. When we decided to make the move closer to work we were apprehensive about fitting into a rapidly growing city with a population over 120,000. The housing market was so hot in 2016 we had hours to decide on a house before it was sold the next day. Without much time to decide, we toured this one and fell in love with the natural light inside and the incredible view to the west. Being on the very edge of development in the Northwest corner of Rochester, it felt like the best of both worlds- the city to the east of us and country to the west. At the time, our realtor was unaware of any immediate plans for development behind us. We decided to take the chance. The backyard was a clean slate when we moved in. We installed our above ground pool and landscaped around it. We also added a native wildflower garden and vegetable garden beds. For four seasons now, we have watched the crops grow from seed to harvest. The mornings cast an incredible light over our neighbor's farm. The sunsets we watch on the deck or at our dining room table are stunning year round. In the summer we lay in the pool and watch the dragonflies shoot over the fields. In the fall and winter we watch huge flocks of geese gather above and deer run across the field. We know at any time a for sale sign could go up behind us. We feel like this makes us appreciate this incredible view even more and we never take it for granted.
While sitting on our deck during the summer of 2019, I got the idea to study our view out back through oil painting. I started with a practice painting in June to see how the composition would work. Even though the sunsets are spectacular, I decided morning light would be best to study the colors and shadows of the landscape. I had to decide the focal point of the barn, silo and buildings on the right along with the Douglas bike trail off to the left. I knew right away it was not the best composition but decided that's not what this would be about. I decided to do this series to record the view and to improve my skills. I wanted to track the color, light and shadows of each month of the year and show how quickly things change in Minnesota. I'm a studio painter but have always admired "en plein air" art (painting the subject in the open air, outdoors). I decided this would be an excellent opportunity to improve my skills.
January. The start of my series and a new calendar year. Even though plenty of "en plein air" artists bundle up and take on the cold, I decided I could get a pretty good look at the view from our warm dining room and kitchen! I painted at the table and at my easel pushed right up to the sliding door. (Little did I know this would soon become my new work space because of the Covid-19 shut down). Our son, Beckett joined me for my first painting session. We had a pretty normal snow total for January and it was snowing while I painted. I really focused in on drawing the farm. I did several sketches of the buildings in my sketchbook prior to starting in on the painting. I decided to paint this in "wrap around" style (painting all 4 edges of the canvas) to not worry about framing.
February. I decided to zoom out and include more of the trees from the bike trail left of the composition. The snow covered landscape and white haze during much of February made the farm seem miles away. I really like how much is said with just a few colors- white (titanium white), tan (raw sienna), cranberry (alizarin crimson) and evergreen (phthalo blue and light/medium yellows) . This might be my favorite scene from the series.
March. And just like that in Minnesota we go from a blanket of snow to green. "The melt" happened pretty quickly with several days of warm temps. We knew there was still some winter left but sure enjoyed the warm days. Covid-19 had us all at home doing puzzles and reading books. Beckett and I got out hiking a few times taking advantage of the warm sunny days. Being home gave me a lot more time to see the morning landscape. I slid this composition the furthest to the left, only including the barn and the silo with a couple of the buildings wrapped around the edge. I wanted to include the remaining snow on the edge of the field.
April. April covered the green, as we anticipated. Even though we were covered in snow, the light and longer days made this a warm pallet. Because of the strong morning light, I was able to capture (my favorite) blue shadows on white snow. The composition is very crunched together because I wanted to capture all the blue shadows I could.
May. May is always an exciting time for us as we wrap up another school year and plant the seeds for an enjoyable summer. Prior to development, much of our surrounding area use to be wetlands. Spring rain and snow melt makes everything turn green almost overnight but also has many residents around the area worry about flooding. I painted this towards the end of May. The crop had just sprouted. We were hoping for corn because it sure makes for a pretty landscape. I really enjoyed painting this in the fresh, warm, spring air.
June. Everything was now fully green. I'm not sure I've ever had a paint pallet with that many greens! I was getting better at drawing the barn and buildings but struggled with the crop. There was a lot going on in the picture and I had to keep my focus on color and shadows.
July. July is our favorite month at home. The flowers are in full bloom and the vegetable garden is providing. We spend most afternoons relaxing in the pool enjoying the warm sunshine. Evenings we often grill out and sit on the deck enjoying the beautiful and peaceful view. I painted this view mid to late July. The crop started to cover the smaller buildings (two of those are old corn cribs). I realized the focal point is the road heading uphill and that part became my favorite part to paint.
August. The month that still feels very much like summer, actually takes a quick turn towards fall from a landscape painting perspective. The landscape is no longer full of green. Suddenly Naples Yellow and Yellow Ochre appear in the trees and fields. I was happy to add these colors into my pallet! When the morning light hit the cornfield, it split into sections of golden yellow and a salmon pink color. Everyday the golden corn tassels swallowed up more and more of the remaining green.
September. The evidence of fall is everywhere. Back to school, shorter days, harvest, and no more bright green color pallet. Wildfires to the west and north made for spectacular sunsets that photos did not do justice. The sky was a gray haze almost every day that month from the wildfires. I really enjoyed the colors in both September and October paintings.
October. This was maybe the most challenging month to paint. The crop quickly changed from a beautiful golden and pink color to tan rust. School was in full swing and I worried harvest would come before I could finish. In one week the landscape changed from the photo on the left to an empty snow covered field on the right shown below. So perfectly Minnesota!
November. I moved back inside to paint the final two. October was cold enough! I now have a huge admiration for the "en plein air" artists who paint in the winter.
December. The finale of the series. I started this painting during our winter break on a beautiful sunny morning. I had to wait over a week for another full sunlite morning. This final morning of my panting, I was blessed with a beautiful frost that covered the trees and created an almost magical landscape to paint. I was happy to have finished this challenge and also a little relieved. One painting a month was at times a lot of pressure to get done while the weather was nice, the sun was out, and my calendar free. Overall I dislike most of the final products. Starting over I would do a lot of things differently. But that's what made this a perfect opportunity to learn and grow. I don't mind saying the buildings and overall composition in these paintings are not my the best work. What I do like is the color pallet in each painting. I'm contemplating doing the series again but abstract. Every painting here is probably overworked. I think the freedom of abstraction would help me to loosen up and take my skills to the next level. Overall, I am happy to have these paintings that capture a whole year of our beautiful view. Development behind us or even a move away is probably inevitable while these paintings and photographs will remain.