I forgot how much I love painting outdoors! For most of the year, I paint indoors and work from photographs for my landscape paintings. And I always enjoy that just fine. But during the summer, when I have time and the weather cooperates, I work on paintings from life, outside, on site. I’ve only been able to do a couple like that this year, but it’s always a great experience.
Last month I did a small palette knife landscape of the beach at Arlington Reservoir, which is a popular summer destination for kids and families. I had so much fun talking with the kids who came up to me to ask me about my painting, comment on the colors I was using, and tell me how they thought I could do it better. Then while I was in the process of packing up, some sand got kicked onto the still wet paint, which actually ended up adding a really cool texture and color and the perfect amount of messiness to the finished piece.
Currently, I am working on a commissioned piece on campus at Tufts University. One of the days I was onsite working recently was freshmen move-in day, which was a lot of fun–so many enthusiastic new students and their parents to talk to! This is a larger piece which will take several sessions to complete, so it feels like a chance to be an ongoing part of the community.
What I love about painting on site in a public place is that it’s a unique opportunity to interact with strangers in a very positive and warm way. I’m sure there are people who don’t like my paintings, but usually the people who stop to talk to me are the ones who do like them. So it’s always encouraging to have positive feedback from strangers. But it also makes a connection–the fact that I’m painting bridges the gap of silence that is usually present between strangers (at least in Boston). People ask me for directions, talk about what they like about the place where I’m painting, or talk about their own artistic experiences. For me, all those conversations and interactions get embedded in the painting itself in some way. The finished result feels like a collaborative work, rather than something I created out of my head, in isolation. When I look at the painting, I see something layered with experiences that much more fully sum up the sense of place in the landscape than a mere two-dimensional image. I also imagine and hope that for the passersby I get to talk to, seeing me painting in a location helps to deepen their experience and appreciation of it as well.
For me, on site landscape paintings of urban spaces are special because they both celebrate specific settings and communities, while also helping to create a sense of place and community.
I’ve stumbled upon a new favorite thing to paint: construction vehicles! There are so many construction projects going on in our neighborhood these days. I end up walking by at least two or three different ones every time I go out, and I’ve started taking pictures with my phone whenever I see an excavator or other vehicle with interesting color contrasts or a cool background. I have a two year old, which is my excuse, but really, lets be honest: I’ve loved watching construction vehicles for a long time.
Anyway it turns out they’re really fun to paint too–bright colors, interesting angles, a lot of contrast. Rust and dirt for texture. I especially enjoy palette knife work with the bright yellow. The palette knife is great too for helping me to paint more loosely and gesturally and preventing me from falling into the trap of trying to make an exact copy of the actual machine. I’ve completed one painting so far and started a second…excited to see how far the current kick takes me.
You can follow me on Instagram to see my construction vehicle series progress (@cara_paints). Also, once paintings are dry and ready to sell I’ll be posting them on my Etsy shop, Painting Ville.
The weather has been so rainy that I haven’t been able to paint outdoors yet this season. I’ve still been working from photographs I took last year, which result in seasonably inappropriate finished work…lots of fall and winter over here, oops!
I just finished one that I love–of sunshine glowing through fall foliage, inspired by a photo I took on Tufts’ campus last year. I’m proud of it partly because it’s the largest canvas I’ve worked on since I was in college (2 feet by 3 feet)–but also because it shows that I’ve finally vanquished my fear of painting leaves and trees. For years I avoided painting trees and especially fall leaves. I thought I just couldn’t do it well so I shouldn’t try. But I’ve realized that I was just being a bit lazy…once I faced up to just doing the work and paying attention to the detail, I really enjoy it!
In other news, I also started an Instagram account just for my paintings and process, @cara_paints. Once I do start painting outdoors, I’ll be documenting it there! I can’t wait to stop painting fall things and instead paint what’s around me now.
I made a couple of listings for custom landscape paintings on Etsy! This is an experiment for me so we’ll see how it goes. I figure the best way to learn is just to try it, and then edit pricing, shipping policies, etc, depending on how it works. You can check out my shop here.
I’ve been having a lot of fun working on this project. It’s acrylic on canvas, based loosely on a photo I took last spring of apple blossoms against a blue blue sky. I’m usually not as comfortable working with acrylics–I always forget that you can’t mix up a large batch of one color before you need to use it, because it will dry, or that you can’t easily work wet on wet the way you can with oils. I loved acrylics here though. They worked well to create a bright, flat background blue and allow for bright contrasting colors layered on top, without having to wait days (or weeks!) between layers like you would with oils.
They also make it easy to cover up mistakes. I first painted the sky and started adding trees and flowers when I realized I had totally the wrong blue pigment.
But then I painted over everything with a much better blue–this time I mixed ultramarine blue and phthalo blue instead of just using ultramarine. Finally getting the blue just right gave me a ridiculous sense of satisfaction!
Finished painting. I am at peace with the world, and my shade of blue. For the moment!
I took this photo of a winter sunset on my street last year, and this winter I’m turning it into an oil painting. All year round when I’m out walking I take photos of trees, sky, buildings, street scenes, or other subjects that I think I might want to paint someday. I try to take a few photos with slightly different angles and lighting. I dislike exactly copying a photo when I paint, so having a few different images to work from allows me to extrapolate and get the feeling of the scene while helping free me up from trying to create an exact copy.
I’ve still got a ways to go with this one–I’m stuck at that point where I have to decide whether to go for a lot more detail or a lot less detail. And I need to darken up the buildings and create more contrast. But I love the colors, and I just bought a tube of this gorgeous purple which (mixed with a lot of other things) is perfect for the snow on the roof. And it makes me happy.