Saturday, July 28, 2012

Memorable Moments en Plein Air

Posted by Maggie

Today I was going through photo files looking for subjects to paint as demonstrations for an upcoming workshop. I recalled a particular photo of a stream that I thought would be a good demo, and started going through files of photos from trips to Scotland.

I got lost in the memories.

One year we went early prior to a workshop, and spent some time on our own, painting and exploring. We spent a day or two in the Glen Coe area, which we'd visited before and loved. One afternoon we set up to paint along a stream in the middle of a glen with mountains rising sharply on either side. It was a good spot for a plein air study:

We were painting away, listening to the chuckling creek and an occasional bird, when suddenly there was a roar that sounded like it was right on top of us. In fact, it was—it was a fighter jet screaming sideways down the glen. My camera's always in my bag on my easel, and I grabbed it just in time for this shot as the pilot roared away.

It was a little hard to concentrate on the painting for a while after that!

That year, Bill and I also rented a small cabin on Loch Duich, near Kyle of Localsh and the bridge to the Isle of Skye. We spent a memorable week there,  exploring some fantastic places, and painting when weather permitted. This was our view from the cabin—it was mid-summer, and this photo was taken late at night, about 11 p.m. The view is of the mountains called the Five Sisters.

Some days it was hard to tear ourselves away from the window to go out to paint. But down at the end of our narrow, single-track road, was an old abandoned ferry house with a great view across the loch. This is the spot photographed looking back from the other side of the loch—the white building is the ferry house:

We set up to paint there one day. Bill was looking across the loch to the Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. From where we were in our quiet isolation, not a tourist was to be seen. The castle was much farther away that you see here, but he could see it well enough to make it a focal point in his painting of the loch and hills.

As we painted away, enjoying our privacy at the end of this dead-end road, I began hearing a bagpipe playing far in the distance. At first I thought I was imagining it, given our idyllic surroundings, but I finally realized it was a piper across the loch, playing for the tourists at the castle. He played for half an hour or so, we painted away, and engraved the experience indelibly in our memories.

There are so many reasons to paint outdoors. We go out expecting and hoping to learn from the landscape, to better understand how light and shadows describe our subjects, and how to paint the constantly changing effects. And then there are these unexpected moments that add a little bonus to the experience of learning, lasting long after the paintings are filed and forgotten.