Plein air painting: Historic Melbourne

Green Wall and Palms


Sometimes the toughest part of plein air painting is simply getting started.  Occasionally, a setting will speak to me in such a way that the subject of my painting will jump out at me.  I immediately focus in on my composition and begin painting.  So far, those days are rare.

More often, I feel overwhelmed by the excess of information.  All around are interesting views and many subjects for potential images.  Being in a new area has added to this challenge.  Each new locale needs to be explored.  I find my camera to be an essential tool in these circumstances. 

I start out with just my camera, capturing an overview of the area and preserving images that might be hard to find again, such as a passing light condition or flowering plant.  Today, I spent time photographing an osprey perched in a large bare tree.  As I relax a little from knowing that I can revisit these images later, I begin to use the camera to help me compose potential views.  When I find myself returning to certain subjects and exploring them with the camera, I start thinking of those views as potential paintings.  The camera lens helps me select my location, and I set up my easel.

Then I bring out my sketchbook.  In my sketches, I rough out my composition, perspective, values, and edit out excess ‘noise’.  Then I can finally begin painting.  Today was one of those difficult days.  Downtown “Historic” Melbourne is full of interesting sites – old architecture and trendy shops, outdoor cafés, alleyways and arcades, and some hints of an incomplete renovation.  The waterfront of Crane Creek is in one direction with its train trestle commanding the view.  Archways span narrow side streets.  Bright colors enhance the details of old buildings.  Wrought iron gates narrow passages and protects old windows.  Modern windows mark the new renovations.  Palm trees of all sizes and many varieties grow everywhere, some shaggy with neglect.

Yet I am in a mood for simplicity, and I find it on the back side of renovated building.  The windows are new, but the stucco is old and the paint slightly weathered.  The textures of the wall create interesting shadows and highlights, and the green is an interesting study next to the palm trees.  I have plenty of material for a more complex work on another day.  Today is a wall, a tree, and the color green.