Niagara River painting (and a little wine)

I feel fortunate to live near the Niagara River. In fact, because I live on an island, I am surrounded by the river. No matter which direction I go, eventually, I will reach the river. On Friday, I headed south to Beaver Island State Park for a plein air painting class, organized by George Smith of the Grand Island Historical Society. Plein air means painting outside. The sky was gray and forboding. Was painting outdoors really the best idea?

Shortly after my friend and adopted brother Curt picked me up, it started to pour. I was happy about the rain because we’ve been experiencing drought conditions here in Western New York but I was not too thrilled with the timing of that rainfall.

Fortunately, I knew that the instructor, Terry Klaaren, a professional artist who lives in Florida, was planning to teach the weather even in inclement weather. If it were to rain too hard for us to paint outdoors, we could always use one of the park’s picnic shelters.

Once we started painting, however, it had stopped raining. At one point, I felt a single raindrop while I painted but that was it. There were about twenty students and we all looked toward the river as we painted. Our painting was to include the sky, the river, the trees, and the weeds. We started with the sky. The paint that you use to make the sky is a mixture of white and blue. You paint until you reach the horizon line. Above is my painting with the sky added.

This is the view of the lake and the sky from River Lea’s lawn. Notice how the scene is mostly sky. At this point, the sky looks quite threatening, as if a huge storm were about to hit.

The next step was to add the trees in the background. The color of background trees is somewhat muted so I mixed some red in with the green. Red and green are complimentary colors and, when combined, the desired color (in this case, green) would be darker and more muted than the original color without the compliment added to it. If you mix an equal amount of red and green, you’ll get a chromatic neutral, which is a very vibrant gray. It’s vibrant because some of the original pigment will always peek through. If you were to get your gray from mixing black and white, the color would seem very flat.

This is another view of the incomplete scenery.

Painting outdoors, with plenty of opportunities to taste wines, is a pleasant way to spend a Friday evening in the summer. 

I add the water to the painting. The water is a mixture of blue, white, yellow, and green. Water has no color of its own. It reflects the sky and the trees.

I add the weeds in the foreground by mixing a lighter green with yellow. That produces a light green, with a little yellow peeking out. Yellow reminds me of sunshine. It adds happiness to the painting.

During the evening, the sky continued to change in appearance. There is some blue in that sky. The clouds are moving away from the southern end of Grand Island.

The painting is nearly done. It has all of the necessary elements in it to show the image of a cloudy day at the river.
I add some highlights to the painting to the trees in the background, the two trees in the foreground, and to the weeds. My goal is to give the impression of being three-dimensional on a two-dimensional medium. I add some color to the clouds to indicate that it is close to sunset.

All in all, the plein air session was a good way to spend a summer’s evening. I even won a bottle of wine (pinot grigiot), which I’m looking forward to sharing with friends.

What have you enjoyed doing recently?

4 thoughts on “Niagara River painting (and a little wine)”

  1. First of all, if you gave me wine while I was supposed to be painting, there's no telling what would happen to the picture! But OH, MY GOSH, Alice, yours is AMAZING!!! It was wonderful to see the process start-to-finish, but also to see the incredible finished product. You are so talented!

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