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New York Botanical Garden Plein Air Invitational

June 18, 2017

We’re just back from the New York Botanical Garden Plein Air Invitational!

It was my first year, but the second time they’ve held the event. So I expect it may become an annual thing. Maybe?

We had a great day, painting alongside some tremendous artists. People working in all media from graphite to gouache to oils. It was great to see a good turn-out from the New York City Urban Sketchers. Thanks to everyone who came to paint along with us :)

This is a view of one half of the conservatory courtyard. It’s a symmetrical  layout, with a mirrored lily pond on the other side, and a courtyard between. I have my back against the main dome of the glass greenhouse.

My view in the drawing doesn’t exactly match the photo – but that’s partially the wide lens, and just where I chose to put the emphasis.  Looks like I shortened the length of the hallways, to give the corner dome more significance.

Normally I might have chosen the more architecturally impressive central dome as my subject, but I’d asked for this spot because of the water feature, and in any case, the larger dome was the only viable source of shade. On a scorching day like this (35C!) you have to take the better part of valor.

I’d asked for this spot for the water lilies, but in fact it was a bit early. They’re just getting started. Looks like the full bloom might be a few weeks yet.

Here’s what my initial sketch looked like, with a little Photoshop magic to darken the line work for you.

I think you can see, my goal with this sort of thing is a very basic line drawing, simply outlining a silhouette of each major form. The white-washed glass roof is a classic example. I’ll draw the outer contour, but I will certainly avoid interior details such as panes of glass, which will get suggested later with color.

In the past I might have tried to draw all the spiky fronds of the water plants – but I lately find it more effective to just loosely outline the mass of the fronds, and again, let the brushwork imply the internal details.

I never want to be trying to color-in a tight drawing of spiky leaves. If you’re painstakingly filling in linear elements – it’ll never look painterly. At best it looks like an illustration. At worst, a cartoon.

NYBG En Plein Air, Stephen Doherty, Photo by Ben Hider

NYBG En Plein Air, Hui Lai Chong, Photo by Ben Hider

NYBG En Plein Air, Shari Blaukopf, and Me!, Photo by Ben Hider

After lunch I stopped by Shari’s spot. The organizers had given her a huge umbrella, providing us a sun-safe space – as long as we didn’t go anywhere. So I painted the same roses she’d done in the AM.

It’s actually kind of a funny story.

I was thinking I only had about an hour, so I really dove in. Seeing if I could draw the roses directly in color. But in fact, I had a lot more time than I thought. So the fresh look of the painting is a result of trying to be completely done in an hour, but then getting a bonus hour to mess around making final touches.

That might be the take away. >>> Aim to be finished in half your total time. Then use the entire second half for small refinements.

Work in Progress Photo by Ben Hider

I’m learning a bit about painting flowers by watching Shari. The trick here was to paint the yellow blooms first! To keep the brightest color clean and clear.

The page is just pale golden blobs at first. Then you begin to cut back in with the dark leaves.

I was fortunate I’d put out fresh color in the morning. It’s the only way to get juicy color – to have fresh wet paint in the palette.

Then, with the 100 degree heat and a light breeze, I could work in lighter to darker layers, without having to wait for passages to dry.

Comparing the painting to real life – you can see I’m taking huge liberties. It doesn’t much look like the real thing hey?  But eeeh – what’re you going to do.  You have to give yourself a pass when you’re dealing with a chaotic mass of flowers.

James Gurney at work on his own yellow roses. Photos by Ben Hider

So, thanks to James Gurney and every one at the NYBG and the Plein Air Invitational team. Maybe put this on your calendar, and come see next year’s artists at work :)

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2017 12:12 PM

    Agree, hope this is an annual event. The rose blooms are good. It’s not a photograph that is wanted, but an artistic interpretation.

  2. Susan Toplitz permalink
    June 18, 2017 12:18 PM

    Marc, it was a real treat to meet you and see you working alongside Sheri. Both paintings came out gorgeous. I hope I wasn’t too much of a PITA with my incessant questions! You were a most gracious sharer and teacher to those of us that attended.

  3. Mary Beth Person permalink
    June 18, 2017 12:41 PM

    Thanks so much for not only sharing the results of your day, but the tips, observations and takeaways. Knowing the thought process is so helpful!!

  4. June 18, 2017 12:50 PM

    Marc, I’ve followed your art for quite some time. Books, videos, blogs etc. From pen/ink sketches, and onto your work right now.
    I am loving your ‘watercolor only’ work… So free, so expressive, and oh so beautiful. !!

  5. June 18, 2017 1:25 PM

    Did you paint the lotus pond? I have been trying to capture the one here in San Francisco at the conservatory.. black water, reflections of the roof, challanging!! Your paintings look great!

  6. Bernaette permalink
    June 18, 2017 1:45 PM

    Amazing work done in intense heat. I think I would have fainted in such temps. Your work as always, is wonderful and so appreciate your narrative and process. I really like the yellow expressive roses, beautifully done. Thanks for sharing.

  7. June 18, 2017 5:16 PM

    Marc, thanks for sharing your love for painting and your knowledge. It was great to watch you work on both paintings in person and hear your reasoning for what you were doing. Thanks for being so patient with all the questions. I can’t wait for your workshop in Chicago.

  8. daveyone1 permalink
    June 18, 2017 5:34 PM

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

  9. June 18, 2017 6:50 PM

    Wonderful Mark. Please come to Burlington Ontario to the Royal Botanical Gardens next! 😁

  10. Sherry permalink
    June 19, 2017 4:53 AM

    Absolutely amazing work, really stunning. I’ve watched and followed you and your video tutorials for so long now, and would love to meet someday but am all the way over the water in the UK (I missed you last year cos I was in Zimbabwe). Just wondering if you ever sell these paintings? I’d LOVE to buy the roses above…

  11. Judy Sopher permalink
    June 19, 2017 10:00 AM

    I really appreciate seeing how you and others work. The results are beautiful. Both you and Shari have super blogs and I look forward to your posts. But most of all, your work is wonderful.

  12. July 2, 2017 7:37 AM

    I love the flower paintings! Great meeting you


  1. New York Botanical Garden Plein Air Invitational — Citizen Sketcher – Walking Market
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