Monday, November 7, 2011

Plein Air Painting at the Dallas Arboretum with Niki Gulley

Purple Clematis, 8" x 10" oil painting by Niki Gulley

Morning Location: the Dallas Arboretum, Poetry Garden

On the first morning of the Plein Air Painting Workshop I taught at the Dallas Arboretum last weekend, we found one of the most quiet locations we could on such a busy, beautiful morning at the Arboretum. While a little chilly at the start of the day, it quickly warmed up to a beautiful 68 degrees. The gardens were in full fall bloom, and it was difficult to narrow down just a single subject to paint, but each painter picked out something that spoke to them – from a single flower, to a sun-lit path framed by trees, to the architecture in the private garden or a quiet bench framed by flowering pots.

So that my students wouldn't miss out on the morning light, I started a quick demo that I had sketched out the previous day of these clematis. To save time, I had also laid out my palette colors, working with water-soluble oil paints, the night before and stored them in the freezer to keep them from drying out. Pre-mixing some of the purple values in the flowers, the greens of the leaves, and the stucco colors in the background so that I could just paint, and not have to stop and mix colors in the process, I quickly laid in a thin coat of the stucco wall and shadow colors so they could be drying.

Then, I established the darks in the flowers with brush and came on top with lighter colors and palette knife to give the flowers dimension. Normally I would work around the whole canvas, but with plein air painting, your time is so short between when your light changes, that at this stage, I went ahead and finish out the details in my focal point, the two main flowers. Lastly, if there is time left, I finish up the painting, in this case adding leaves, vines, and thick painter to the stucco wall to suggest the sun reflecting off its surface. At this point, it's best to stop and not overwork the spontaneity of the sketch - you can always go back and tweak things back in the studio later.

Check out some of my students' morning paintings. Even though we were set up within 20 feet of each other, I love how each painter sees things differently.

If you'd like more information about my upcoming workshops in the US and Europe, visit

Or, to see more of my local Dallas and travel paintings, please stop by the Bath House Cultural Center, for my last show of the year, Nov. 18th - 20th.

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