Plein Air Painting on the Rappahannock River

So we recently got brave enough to take a trip in this age of COVID-19. We rented a house on the very tip of Virginia’s Northern Neck for a few days because water is a nice change from our mountains. It was even more secluded than here. The house was right on the banks of the Rappahannock River just where it meets the Chesapeake Bay. It was a stunningly beautiful location with gorgeous sunsets. The outdoor space had a dock, and a picnic table deck right on the beach. I usually take reference photos and then paint from them in my studio. I don’t do much plein air painting, but was such a wonderful opportunity to do some that I went for it.

Plein air painting is more about capturing the feeling of the place, and less about capturing a perfect image. It’s about painting loose and quickly. So don’t expect polished paintings, but I had fun and I like the sketches that I did.

The first is a view looking across the river toward the southwest. The dock was in the foreground slightly obscured by small pine trees. There were dramatic clouds in the distance with bright white tops. I was not happy with the clouds in this painting. I actually don’t like this sketch very much, but I was just warming up.

The second was looking the other direction, down the river towards the bay. There was a small beach and jetty in the foreground and one of the few sailboats we saw, which is odd given that October is a big sailing month for this area. There were small waves in the water reflecting the sunlight that I tried to capture. The sky was clear in this direction. I like this one better.

I was still annoyed with the clouds in the first painting and decided that I needed practice. I love clouds with brilliant whites and varying shades of gray. When I paint skies I usually do wet in wet to get softer edges. To get those dramatic whites you need to do hard edges and I can never get it to work. My engineer’s brain says clouds are soft and fluffy and that doesn’t mix with hard edges.

My first attempt has very hard edges but the darks are too big and don’t have enough gradation. Mostly this just looks messy to me.

In the second attempt I gave into my desire for softer edges, but I was careful to leave a lot of white. I like this one better, but this is something that I really need to practice a lot. Some people are so good at it.

Stay safe and be well.

5 thoughts on “Plein Air Painting on the Rappahannock River

  1. Cindy — love your work and especially your comments — it is like a bit of an art lesson for this expert at drawing stick figures.

    Thank you

  2. Cindy — I love your clouds and the lesson that went along with them. I only excel at stick figures done in charcoal — keep up the work and the sharing. Much enjoyed here in the valley.
    barbara

  3. I loved your second painting. Very evocative And beautiful. And I found your cloud studies and your comments on each interesting. I, of course, haven’t tried anything like this, but I like your attempts and can see how you learn from them…keep it up!

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