Simplifying Subject Matter

"Oak" 4 x 6 in. chalk pastel on paper

Another afternoon at home, another quick plein aire session with the pastels. The above painting was done in about 20 minutes. There are two things that help me complete a quick daily painting like this: working small and keeping the painting simple.

We have many scrub oak trees on the property, and there is one that sits somewhat by itself in the driveway. I've always liked this tree, because it differs from the others in that it is taller and always has a dramatic shadow.

I sat on the ground to paint this, and chose to keep the composition simple, focusing on the tree and its shadow. The view behind the tree actually has hills and flowers in it, but I knew that those would complicate the process and take away from the bold position of the tree. So, I filled the background in with sky instead.

Some artists use a viewfinder to help narrow down a composition outside. I find it more helpful to pick one focal point to refer to, and relate everything else I choose to include in the painting to that focal point. This means that as I usually end up painting the scenes or objects that stand out because of their strong shapes or values.


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