Art, Painting, Sketching, Urban Landscape, watercolor

Box car

I took a bike ride through the NW industrial zone this morning. I especially like these kinds of sites on off days when they’re deserted. It wasn’t really cold but the sun kept ducking behind the clouds and it was a bit breezy. I wish I had dressed a bit more warmly.

I sketched this box car a couple of times. It was a really relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

Box Car

I’ve attempted a couple of plein aire oil paintings over that last week and have found it even more challenging than studio painting. The primary thing I’ve struggled with this week, is learning to simplify what I see and distill the information down to a few essential values. Yesterday, however, I accidentally discovered a tool that’s been very helpful with this. Out of a scrap of mat board, I made a small frame, about 3 by 5 inches, to frame what I’m drawing. In side of the frame I taped a piece of visqueen and drew a 1 inch grid on it with waterproof ink. This is a pretty standard tool for plein aire artists, I think, but what I didn’t expect was that looking through the visqueen, which is old and not as clear as it may once have been, distorted the image in a way that made it much easier to simplify the shapes. This little tool has been very helpful. It’s kind of like squinting without having to squint, I wonder though, is it cheating?

Landscape example 1 Landscape example 2

Nah! Painters over the ages have used all kinds of crap to help them translate life into paint. I even read recently in a plein aire painting book a suggestion to use photoshop to blur a photo to paint from. Now that seems like cheating to me, but is it really any different than this?

7 thoughts on “Box car”

  1. Your viewfinder is useful, and i agree with you – it is not cheating. To get a good idea of how some mannerist painters used a similar tool, take out the movie Artemisia. There is a great scene with a large framed structure being propped in front of a painter and between him and a landscape, it looked as if the grid was made of wire.
    Also there is a great example of building an outdoor studio using canvas.
    By the way, your sketches show a fine hand and a sensitive eye. G


  2. Thank you thank you thank you!! I too am getting ready to paint plein air and feel
    tripedation. This is a great idea.You could market this as the squint machine.


  3. G. Thanks for the kind words and movie recommendation. I’ve just added it to my Netflix list.

    Lindsay – I’m glad you found my contraption interesting I hope it’s helpful to you. I apprecieate the link.



  4. I don’t know Bill. Is there still something like cheating? You write in your profile that you paint for your own “pleasure”. So if you want to use it or blur in photoshop why not?
    But I understand the question perfectly well and often feel the same about it. And since I would like to try to learn to paint and draw from the bottom up I try to use extra tools as just (helpful!)learning experiences.


  5. HI Bill,
    Meeting your blog today has been a superb pleasure. I’m into painting and drawing myself but somehow prefer drawing much more than painting. I like the immediacy of it. I see, though, that you accomplish that freshness even in your oil paintings. Bravo! Thanks so much for sharing.
    I think your blur tool is a perfect artists’ tool. I think that “cheating” is a fabrication by some uptight wallpaper artists who are too lazy to articulate what makes a good painting. I use photographs (Ack!!!!, how could you!!) from time to time, because I have had so little time to paint and draw that the photo serves as a memory stick for me when I get back into the studio and settle into drawing. It all depends on what you do with it.
    If one’s drawing becomes stiff and detailed, if one tries simply to copy the photo, it’s a loser. You can feel it in the structure and handling of the paint. But if the photo is used for isolating a composition, for reminding one of the general way that shadows go, or for reminding one of a sense that fast moving clouds give you with a swift changing light, or a rhythm that you see in some scape you’ve isolated, then, “Great!”, I say. “Go for it. Do whatever helps you to express the feeling you get in looking at something.”
    I’m glad to have found your blog. I’ll come visiting from time to time.


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