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Blue Ridge Plein Air Painters

Kathy Seek

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Painting by Kathy Seek
Painting by Kathy Seek
Painting by Kathy Seek
Painting by Kathy Seek

For a recent gallery show Kathy was asked to assemble a demo wall showing the creative process from outdoor field study to final studio painting. Her university teaching continues with demonstrations and mentoring regarding the skills necessary to effectively capture accurate lighting and color while painting "en plein air."

Kathy Seek painting on site in Grand Teton National Park
Kathy Seek's Plein Air study in oil from photo at left
Mt. Moran from Schwabacher Landing, WY (studio painting from field study)

Kathy Seek painting on site in Grand Teton National Park

Plein Air study in oil from photo at left.

Mt. Moran from Schwabacher Landing, WY (Studio painting from field study)

Development of Finished Studio Paintings from

Plein Air (Outdoor) Field Studies

Mount Moran from Schwabacher Landing – Grand Teton National Park

While many plein air paintings are themselves finished works, completed in the field or later in the studio, scenes painted en plein air have long been used by artists as field studies for their often larger, more detailed studio easel paintings.  A description of this process by the artist for Mount Moran from Schwabacher Landing – Grand Teton National Park follows:

In June 2007, I revisited a favorite spot in the Tetons, Schwabacher Landing.  It was perfect weather and I was able to work from 8:30 am to 11:00 am.  Quickly setting up my easel and sketching a few design ideas, decisions had to be made regarding how to selectively use portions of this grand panorama of God’s wonderful creation to create the best representation on canvas – how much of the scene to paint and what to omit.  I decided to modify the tree clump sizes and, by using lighter values in key areas and reducing the size of the middle ground trees, make a “path” for the eye to move from the foreground river, over the field, upward to Mount Moran in the distance.  Since the shadows and play of sunlight on the landscape change quickly, speed is important; after a quick but careful block-in to establish the basic framework of my chosen design, I massed in the local colors and started to build the structure of lights and darks supporting my design.  From this point on, I had the most fun and totally lost any sense of time.  On a good painting day like this, I feel at one with the landscape, playing color against color, varying my brush strokes for maximum effect and creating on canvas what I hope will be an artistic interpretation that reflects my impression of that particular place at that very moment in time.

Later, in the larger studio painting I had an opportunity to make changes.  Feeling it would create a better work, I elected to show evidence of the mountain range that extends to the left and to reduce the size of the trees at that edge to give Mount Moran more of a sense of the commanding majesty that it has in reality.  In turn, that changed the location of the tree reflections in the river bend, but that was acceptable to me since the painting isn’t about the reflections – they just support the experience.  And that experience was the idea that on a summer day, if you could walk far enough, you could find something magical beyond the trees . . . a field where bison roam, where the lazy Snake River meanders below a majestic mountain with glaciers intact, and where if you look up you might be lucky enough to see an eagle soar in this place that God has so greatly blessed.

– Kathy Seek, 2010

Kathy Seek painting plein air of the beginnings of spring in the Blue Ridge Parkway
Finished studio painting of the plein air study done at the Blue Ridge Parkway by Kathy Seek
Plein air study of the Blue Ridge Parkway by Kathy Seek

A Plein Air Story

On one particularly perfect day, I was painting the beginnings of spring in this field next to the 

Blue Ridge Parkway, when a voice startled me from behind. There stood a photographer/author who wanted 

permission for a photograph and of course I accepted. He was creating a pictorial of the entire parkway

 for publication. Later that week back in the studio, with fresh inspiration from the location, my plein air study

 and my own digitals, I created a larger painting. This is often what plein air painters do, expand later upon their

 outdoor experience on a larger canvas. Or they might simply finish up the same canvas back in the studio,

 such as some of those you will find from all of us on our Adventures page.

Plein Air study

Finished studio painting

Using the field study above I started a new canvas in the studio. Painting from an outdoor study can be invaluable for maintaining the local colors, as well as an opportunity to tweak the composition to make it stronger and even more creative. In this instance I felt the larger painting needed some sky, and that the colors in the background could benefit from a slight shift and a pop of color here and there.

Painting by Kathy Seek
Painting by Kathy Seek
Painting by Kathy Seek

Linville Falls

Richard’s Creek

Kathy Seek