Plein Air sketch - Cloud Shadows on the Green Mountains

Plein Air sketch - Hillside tree line

Plein Air sketch – Hillside tree line

Plein Air sketch - cloudy sky and shadowed mountain top

Plein Air sketch – cloudy sky and shadowed mountain top

Three sketches completed during my weekend class “Painting the Autumn Landscape in Watercolor”.  On Saturday, the first day of the class, we climbed a hillside behind the Taraden Bed & Breakfast in North Bennington, VT to paint the the visible from that spot.  It was a beautiful early fall day – just warm enough and with bright sunshine interrupted periodically by one of the fluffy and fast-moving clouds.  From our spot, it was possible to view the a great deal of the  peaks of the Green Mountains – from the north east to the south.  To the south and west, the distant Taconic Range was also visible.  I did these sketches during the day.

The first sketch was done earlier in the day, when the sky had relatively few low clouds that cast their shadows over the mountains. Because they were moving, we could watch the shadows race over the surface of the hills and mountains. One of the biggest challenges when painting “en plein air” is handling the constantly changing conditions, especially the light and shadow conditions on the ground.  The solution is to sketch, in pencil, the main forms and then watch for an attractive pattern of shadow. Once it appears, quickly add the shadow shapes in pencil.  Once you start painting, you can refer to the light areas of the mountains and hills to get the local color, and watch for more cloud shadows to get that color.

Each of these sketches is about 6 x 8 in size and each was completed in less than10  minutes. For me, the key to lively plein air sketches is working quickly.  The other advantage is that it will train you to see both the shape and color of the scene you are painting very quickly, which translates to greater skill as an artist.

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