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Painting Seascapes Plein Air: The Ultimate Challenge for Any Artist

There was no swell or wind. The sky was partly overcast and displayed hints of blue and yellow. The ocean was still and reflected the sky with great clarity. Today, however, conditions were very different as the sea was rough. Big waves were crashing onto rocks and huge amounts of water vapor were rising against the backdrop of dark cliffs.
A challenging subject for any artist.

I was immediately struck by the vivid contrast between the dark rocks and white foam crashing over and around them. Deciding to make this my starting point, I prepared my equipment, secured the easel and began painting Plein Air by brushing on thick white paint for the foam. The dark rocks were spontaneously rendered with a palette knife. There were many rocks and it is the artists job to simplify and rearrange in an order which is pleasing to the eye.

Composition, in my opinion, is the hardest concept to understand and master. I selected large, medium and small rocks and positioned them different distances apart. No two rocks were identical in size or shape, nor were the spaces between them. This use of artist licence by selecting and rearranging the elements in a pleasing order is the essence of composition.

I noticed a lone fisherman on the rocks being harassed by menacing seagulls. In fact there were many seabirds including an eagle which circled above my head then disappeared into the rising seaspray.

The sky was painted next along with the backdrop of dark cliffs and distant ocean. Alternating brush strokes were used to capture the irregular movement of seawater. Inevitably mistakes were made but the paint was thick and manageable so alterations were possible at this stage. Paint was scraped off and slapped on. A little frustration crept in and I found myself painting more freely as a result. This change in method was advantageous as my mood began to reflect that of the ocean.

My emotions changed again as the painting began to take shape. Then just a few brushstrokes in the right place and it was close to completion. I included the fisherman and painted his jacket red. This bright color against a dark blue ocean made for a strong focal point. The finishing touch was applied by balancing the fisherman with the eagle opposite.

Any temptation to mess with the wet paint now could be detrimental and upset the freshness which is characteristic of the Plein Air Technique. Transporting the canvas back to my car was the next hurdle. The use of fast drying oil paints and the application of packing tape around the canvas edges helps with handling. When the tape is removed a beautiful 50mm border will be revealed, which will greatly enhance the artwork when framed.