Painting a Season in All Its Glory

2 Oct 2011

Study for Gapstow Bridge in Sunlight by Bennett Vadnais, oil on canvas, 12 x 16, 2007.
Study for Gapstow Bridge in Sunlight by Bennett Vadnais, oil on canvas, 12 x 16, 2007.

Fall is my favorite time of year. It's my birthday season, so of course I'm partial, but I also just love the smell of autumn. It's crisp and clean, and smells like rich earth.  More than any other time of year, I want to be outside during fall, hiking trails and exploring the woods as the leaves turn.

When I imagine the ideal plein-air painting situation, it always happens to be sometime during the fall, at least in my mind. But that can be tricky. Outdoor painting during autumn can mean a lack of vibrant colors if you happen to miss the leaves changing. In that case, you have to make the browns, beiges, blacks, and grays you see something worth painting. To me that means adding dimension to the colors. Reaching for deep blues and purples and reds for earth tones makes a painting come alive in a way that can be subtle but still visually exciting.

Cloudy Autumn by Bennett Vadnais, oil on canvas, 12 x 16, 2006.
Cloudy Autumn by Bennett Vadnais,
oil on canvas, 12 x 16, 2006.
I'm also really hyper-conscious of the color that I do find in the landscape when I am in front of my plein air easel. I'll literally turn around in a circle and allow the landscape as a whole to make a color impression on me. Then, I'll just jot down a few notes in my notebook about what I saw, or thought I saw. And I will pull color inspirations from a lot of sources--a bright red cardinal's coloring, for example, could definitely play a part in a painting composition, even if it flits away and I never see it again during my painting session.

When painting en plein air during autumn, I can also focus on my line work in a way that I can't when all of the trees and greenery are in full bloom. As the foliage thins with the change of the season, I feel that mark making becomes more important. I want to capture the lines of tree limbs, the jagged profiles of cliff sides, and the horizon lines of peaks or mountain ranges, and will use different brushes and different hand positions to achieve the effects I want.

Plein air painting during autumn allows me to deeply connect with nature in a way that I need, because I know soon enough I'll be warm and cozy indoors as the elements change and grow harsher over the winter months. But that doesn't mean I stop thinking about what it means to be painting outdoors. Our latest issue of Plein Air Painting has given me enough ideas and artists to consider over the next several months that I'll be back out there before I know it, raring to go with what I've learned from Plein Air Painting. Enjoy!

What is your favorite thing to paint during fall? Leave a comment and let me know.


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crowdaddy wrote
on 3 Oct 2011 12:12 PM

I've enjoyed reading your comments over the months, and like the fall one especially.  Thank you.    

vikisioux wrote
on 3 Oct 2011 2:48 PM

I love the Fall when you can go outside and watch things die and turn brown.  And then there is those g--damn leaves to contend with.