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Sketching Outdoors in "plein-air"

One of my favorite things to do when the weather gets nice is to take my oil pastels, or colored pencils, inks or watercolors, and sketch outdoors. A long time ago, I took a class in New York City called "Oil Sketching in Central Park." It was not my first, nor last class on drawing or painting outdoors, but it was the most memorable. You can capture the essence of something in a quick colorful sketch that you just can't capture when using a photo reference.



When I do sketch from the outdoors, I always take a reference photo just in case I may want to look at it later on, but often I don't do that.


There's such a pleasure sitting in the warm sun, and when the oil pastels get warm, they feel like lipstick, especially if you invest in the highest quality ones, such as Sennelier. I splurged on a large box of Sennelier 25 years ago and never regretted it. The colors are so much richer than the cheap, crayon-like pastels that most people start out with.




I sketch mostly in the summer, but this fall was warm and because of COVID, I really wanted to not waste the beautiful colors of fall, so I headed out to the Cleveland Metroparks and spend a weekend trying to capture the fall leaves. Oil pastels force you to be bold, as you get only a small range of colors, so the end results seems like the French "Fauve" (wild beast) painters such as Matisse. He's one of my favorites.








Since I tend to have a bold, heavy hand, the oil pastels suit me. I use black paper as my background, which makes the colors "pop" even more. Using the limited palette forces a simplicity and immediacy that I really like.


I also like the idea of following a theme, such as Impressionist painter Claude Monet's haystacks, or cathedrals, where you paint the same image at a different time of day or season. I really love the green of the Lorain Bridge in the Rocky River Reservation. I drew this "en plein-air" this past summer, then came back twice in the fall, and added a figure to one of them. Here are the results.


Summer version:


The fall version:


and the fall version with figure:


If I'm up for it, maybe I'll brave the snow for a winter version!


During my lunch hours I walk in the lovely Cleveland Botanical Gardens. I've been using imagery from there for years for artwork. I especially love the intricate gate framing the garden and take photos in every season. Here's my fall version, and I have a snowy winter version in process.




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