Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Plein air: Cloister Park, Winter

Winter in Summer, well almost. I attempted to go out for a day of plein air painting back in February. While living in England, I had hoped for some snow that would stick so I could paint outdoors in the snow. It never did, but I got out to paint anyway, only to discover that the freezing temperatures and bad surface conditions foiled my attempts. I retreated, tail between legs, and finished the painting in the studio.

You'd think I'd have learned a thing or two about painting outdoors in the winter. I am, if anything, stubborn when it comes to things I want to do. Maybe the more appropriate description is dumb as a rock. The jury is still out (which just means I don't want to admit to the latter).

In any case, it was by all accounts a long and unseasonably cold winter in NYC this year. Long periods of snow, which did stick, and which piled up. So, I thought I'd go out and paint at the nearby Cloister Park. There's a very nice European medieval building there (really, it's actually European...in Manhattan). However, the light during the time of day I was out was pretty flat, so there was no good angle really. So as I trekked around, I came upon this bend in the path. My wife says I sometimes pick odd things to paint when I do landscapes. What she means is this scene isn't the point of Cloister Park--there are 3 scenic highlights within the park that are meant to attract attention, and I suppose most folks would go for the easy bet and paint those. But the light raking through a stand of winter-naked trees off-frame to the right, on a ridge above the path, was interesting. So I set up and started painting.

If I was smart, I would've brought gloves. Perhaps the jury is in after all. The strong winds pushed the total chill to about 20F. About every 15 minutes I had to stop and warm up my fingertips. I got nowhere fast, and after barely blocking in the composition, my brain caught up with reality and I packed it in. I hadn't brought my camera (verdict: guilty) because I intended to simply paint outdoors. So I walked home, grabbed it, and headed back out to take a few shots. Then I finally went home.

12x16" Oils on Canvas (purchase details)

Over the next few days, I started in on it again when I had some time. As with the England landscape, I figured I'd make it a tighter finished piece, perhaps not as tight as my illustration, but something in-between, which would allow me to play a little more. Work caught up with me and I had to put it away, with not even a full day of work left on it. And so it waited for a few months. The cold weather finally broke, we got our late spring, and just as the humidity is rising and the temperature climbing, I was able to pull it out to finish it up, cognizant that it would be difficult to get in the mood to paint snow as summer sweltered on.