This past weekend I conducted a plein air painting workshop in Winters, Ca. The workshop was specifically about painting streetscapes and solving the problems which are typical of this genre.
Street scenes, store fronts and architecture present challenges like perspective drawing and simplifying and organizing visual clutter. It's hard enough to paint them in the comfort of your own studio, but outside, from direct observation... it takes the challenge to a whole new level. Not to mention dealing with the elements (the sun, the wind, the noise...) and spectators who want to tell you about their aunt who also paints. But in watercolor. She paints flowers mostly, but she did this beautiful portrait of her grandkids one time and won an award for it. Do you use photographs? (Hello, we're painting en plein air right before your eyes!)
No, I'm exaggerating. People in Winters that we encountered were all very nice and pleasant, and they really seemed to enjoy having a bunch of artists paint their town.
Anyway, but yes, painting the streetscape is difficult and I did what I thought was the best way to help the students tackle the problems; Simplified value studies. I had them pick out a scene that they wanted to paint, then had them do a two value b/w study, and then a three value b/w study. Really understanding the difference between the two and three value studies was key to organizing the painting's structure, as well as having them realize just how little information you really need to include, in order to convey a sense of place and light.
I know some of them didn't want to do the b/w studies but I hope they saw, by the time they got to the full color version of the same scene, that indeed the value studies were enormously helpful, not just in designing the a painting, but in learning hot to see and think about a complex subject such as a street scene.
I certainly saw that the value studies helped, because they produced some very good final paintings which were organized and simplified with intent. Not sure if the students realized this, because just about none of them had ever painted a street scene before, and certainly not en plein air, meaning they had no prior experience against which to compare their results and experiences.
Nevertheless I felt the workshop was very successful. I hope the students had a good time too and they went home with new knowledge~
Below are my paintings that I did earlier in the week (before the workshop). I went out to Winters to scope out locations and did a few paintings to familiarize myself with the views and the light.
Finding a good location for workshops is not an easy thing. If I were by myself painting, I could set up just about anywhere. But when you have a group, the requirements for a suitable location is more stringent. We have to have safe parking close by, (preferably free), good views appropriate for the workshop subject matter, good vantage points, open shade under which to stand, open shade under which to sit/ stand during a lecture/demo, restrooms, some place to do a group crit, lunch spots, and a plan B for adverse weather.
Our Winters location met nearly all of these requirements, so I really enjoyed conducting a workshop there. I will definitely look into doing it again~