63 What I learned in Door County

PERIODS of intense painting can be extremely productive in advancing painting ability which make plein air festivals, like the one I recently attended in Door County, very productive.This is especially true if the terrain is radically different from what you are accustomed. The lush and humid environs of the Wisconsin Peninsula forced me to break old habits and see things in a new light. Here are some of the things I learned:


There is no substitute for accuracy when painting greens. The sensitivity of the human eye to greens is more acute than with any other color. If your greens are haphazard or arbitrary viewers can easily detect your slothfulness. So how do you get the greens right? Use lots of red to mellow or soften the high saturation of green. To start a green I usually begin with Thalo Green to which I might add Alizarin Crimson or Cadmium Red. To modify this base I will add Dioxazine Purple to create a shadowy green. To mix a light green I add Cadmium Yellow Deep (a very orange yellow). I use purple and orange to modify my greens because these colors contain a lot of red. If I add Cadmium Yellow Light and Ultramarine Blue (two colors containing little red) I push the green back to a highly saturated green and lose the advantage originally created by graying a base green with complementary red. In Door County I had to radically modify my methods of mixing greens but I found this new procedure to be superior in achieving rich, subtle greens. Paradoxically the more green nuances you can mix the more greens you will see.


One of the best things you can do to create a successful painting is to take the time to do a small thumbnail sketch before starting to paint. The reasons for doing a sketch are to discover a solid composition and lock down the basic design and pattern of the shadows. In a two hour painting session the shadows can change dramatically. By having a sketch as reference throughout the painting session you can ensure the basic design will remain strong. Given the variability of light during a two-hour session there will be moments where you will paint entirely from your sketch.


After preparing the best you can, relax and take your time as you paint. A sense of urgency and haste is antithetical to the creative process. The subconscious mind works best when the body is relaxed and calm. You will always do your best painting when you can muster a sense of profound calm and confidence. Since you have prepared properly allow yourself the luxury of tranquility.


If the light changes dramatically during a two-hour session don’t be afraid to return when the lighting is more to your liking. Doing a two-session painting under similar lighting conditions will allow you more time to make decisions resulting in a superior painting. As long as the paint is still wet there is no downside to extending your painting session. Of course you may run the risk of the paint drying before weather conditions resume. But in most cases extending the painting time to a second session can be extremely beneficial.


Once you have established your composition, your shadow pattern, your pattern of dark and light, stick with it. Don’t allow yourself to become derailed by ever-changing shadows and colors. Stay true to the original reason you selected your motif. This discipline will allow you to grow faster even though it may initially appear counterintuitive to the creative process.


There are times in every painter’s career where it seems you have exhausted your ability to improve. This is a mirage that if believed will detract you from your ability to press forward in a rational, straightforward fashion. Do not take counsel from the weaker aspects of your character but place confidence in your best self and never forget that your potential is inextricably linked to your perseverance.

Brad Teare © 2010

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Updated: 3rd February 2023
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