Plein Air Acrylic in Rowayton: A First Attempt

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Street in Rowayton, CT

Plein air watercolor has always appealed to me -- it's the minimalism of the kit required, I suppose, and the spontaneity of the medium. However, I've always admired plein air work in other media -- oil, acrylic and pastel alike.

So when I saw that Pacific Northwest-based artist Annie Howell Adams was teaching a daylong workshop titled Fauving up the Landscape here at Rowayton Arts Center, I signed up and persuaded a friend to do the same. Figured it was a good opportunity to try a new medium and learn from an expert.

The week of the workshop, things got very busy at work. I hadn't had time to shop for supplies, so I hastily put together a bag the night before, noting with despair that I was missing some key materials -- to wit, decent canvases and a tube of alizarin crimson.

Since I wanted to meet my friend before the start of class, M. and I left the house early. On the way we saw a sign for an estate sale, so we decided on a quick detour.

"Looking for anything in particular?" asked the lady at the cashier's desk in the foyer of the estate-sale house.

"Nah, just stopping by on the way to a painting class at Rowayton Arts Center down the road," I said.

The woman brightened. "Oh, you should definitely check out the art supplies downstairs -- my aunt used to take classes there, too!"

She wasn't kidding. Her late aunt had certainly taken her hobby seriously. In 10 minutes I amassed a boxload of prime art supplies - including, by coincidence, the very items I needed for the class. New canvases? Hog-bristle brushes in various sizes? Check! Alizarin crimson acrylic paint? Check! What were the odds? Armed with my finds, I headed off to the workshop feeling very lucky indeed.

Annie, the instructor, was lovely -- so down-to-earth and such a fount of information. She shared her palette layout and did a demo outdoors showing how to mix colors. She often sketches on her canvas with black gesso before glazing with medium and adding layers of oil on top. Here's an illustration of this technique on her blog.

I love that she's unabashedly passionate about creating art in all kinds of media; so many artists these days confine themselves to a certain type of work and even limit their range of subject matter, all to keep galleries happy and establish a signature style. Yawn.

So - how did I make out? I found that my watercolor setup worked just as well for acrylic: I filled an AquaTote collapsible fabric water bucket and set it on my folding stool. On the portable easel was the butcher tray, which held paper towels, a few paint tubes and a rectangle of palette paper secured with mini spring clamps.

The sun and breeze that day meant that paint dried very fast. Next time I'll bring a spray mister to keep my paint wet. I mostly used a limited palette of a warm and a cool version of each primary, plus white, with no browns or black.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, especially as I'd never painted outdoors with acrylics before. And I'd like to think that the beloved aunt, whose materials I used for the painting, would have been happy to see her paints, canvases and brushes live on.


UK Sketchbook Part 2: York and Edinburgh

Sunday, May 05, 2013

High Petergate, York, UK

We had only one day in York, which wasn't quite enough. We hit most of the "sights" in the central area, but next time I would love to venture farther afield. (By the way, we'd highly recommend the Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa -- steps from the York train station, it's an old railway company HQ that's been converted into a hotel, complete with a fabulously atmospheric spa in the basement vaults.)

The street view in the sketch above is typical of what you see in the medieval-walled town -- especially enjoyed the famous Shambles, which many have compared to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series. There was even a small art supply store there, so I bought a Hahnemuhle sketchbook to add to my collection.

The next morning it was on to Edinburgh. It's truly as lovely as advertised -- the views in every direction just beg to be painted. We spent the first day wandering around, going to shops and getting oriented. At Waterstones on Princes Street, I picked up a copy of Mairi Hedderwick's book An Eye on the Hebrides: An Illustrated Journey. Her fresh, lively drawings really capture the rugged remoteness of the islands.

Inspired, I was determined to do slightly less walking and more sketching the following day. The (nearly deserted) rooftop terrace of the National Museum of Scotland was a great setting from which to draw Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, UK

I certainly wasn't going to leave Scotland without sketching at least one bagpiper entertaning the tourists on the Mound:

Bagpiper, Edinburgh, UK

After a delicious vegetarian lunch at David Bann, M. took off to bike around Holyrood Park while I searched out Greyfriars Art Shop (to buy a DaVinci travel watercolor sable brush). I'd heard of the store from an article in Artists & Illustrators magazine about "traditional" art supply stores in the UK. The two Greyfriars outlets I visited in Edinburgh are certainly old school -- packed with merchandise, plus very helpful and friendly staff.

I hope they stay in business, since there are so many lovely things to paint in the city! The pitch of the streets meant that I could stand outside our hotel on the Royal Mile and look straight down to the water:

Royal Mile, Edinburgh, UK

And this was the view out of our fourth-floor window at the Radisson:

View over Edinburgh, UK

We barely scratched the surface before it was time to head back to London. On our next trip, we'll have to go to Glasgow. And the Highlands. And the Isle of Skye...