Making A Bird’s Nest

I admire those artists who can go outside, breathe in the scene around them, set up their easel and create a painting that is as fresh and alive as the moment they are in. For me it’s almost torture.

I can name any one of many reasons why today will not be a good “plein air” day. It is either too windy, too hot, too cold, the bugs are biting, the dogs running loose in the park make me nervous, I don’t have the right materials with me, I forgot a hat, I’m getting sunburned, my visor is giving me a headache, and the litany goes on.

I know all the “techniques” for painting outdoors but putting them to practice is a struggle. I look for something that interests me and catches my eye. I consider vistas as well as close up subjects. I do thumbnails of the lights and the darks, I decide on a composition that supports the concept of the painting. I block in the masses, simplify the shapes and quickly get down the “bookends” of the painting, the lightest light and the darkest dark.  And as the painting progresses I find myself getting more anxious about its outcome. It seems to be loosing its freshness. The beauty and the curse of using pastel as my primary medium is that it is so forgiving. I have fallen into the trap knowing that if a stroke may not be just right, I can always fix it. I can make it warmer, cooler, brighter, duller, lighter, or darker. And I do, over and over again.

In the studio, I can walk away from the task at hand and come back with fresh eyes. Outside, the clock is ticking, the light is changing and I just keep pushing pastel around. So why, every Friday, or almost every Friday do I get together with a group of artists to paint outdoors? Because it is a challenge, though at times, an agonizing one.  And I want to get good at this.

Creating a painting is done one stroke at a time. So I have come to the conclusion that instead of going out each Friday with the idea that today I will make a painting, I have begun to focus on not only getting a good start, but making every stroke, a deliberate stroke. It still may not be perfect, but there is thought and consideration behind it. Hopefully in time, it just becomes more right and intuitive.

 By going and coming a bird weaves its nest.
(African proverb)

Everything worth doing takes perseverance.


5 Responses to “Making A Bird’s Nest”

  1. Denise West Says:


    I can so relate! I, too, hate plein air painting – the hot, the cold, the wind, the rain, the snow, the bugs, the sun, and everything you named. All the paraphernalia, ugh! Then, this fall I signed up for a plein air painting class with the local college, and it made me paint every week. I discovered that it really helps to paint with a group – why be miserable by yourself, right?!

    Like you, I realized that this was something I had been avoiding and needed to learn. I don’t know about you, but I actually started to like it!

  2. Carol McIntyre Says:


    Your name kept haunting me and could not place it until I went to your web site and noticed that you teach at the School of Light & Color! I have been twice and am a HUGE fan of Susan & her teaching. Please tell her hello for me……..she may remember me under the name of Carol Gray.

    Plein air painting is a whole different can of worms. I have tried writing about it a couple of times and people are always surprised by the challenges because they think it is so “romantic,” yeah right. When I paint on site, I do it for field studies and I use my hard pastels. We can talk more if you like. I will never forget the time when I took out all of my pastels and box fell onto the parking lot pavement, hence I take the minimum out to the field.

    • Marianne Post Says:

      Pastels rolling around the parking lot is a great visual. My first plein air encounter included dogs swimming in the park’s pond and then coming over to my setup and shaking off. Perhaps first plein air experiences would be a good blog topic. I bet there are lots of stories to be told. I will see Susan on Saturday, at of all things, a plein air event sponsored by Chroma Gallery. I will tell her hello.

  3. Carol McIntyre Says:

    Marianne, your image is a good one as well. That first year I worked outside I wonder if I would have benefited from a “Dumb Artist Goes Outside Guide?” LOL! Or perhaps it might have scared me off. Once time a guy came up to me a demanded $10 for painting an old building that was not even on his property. Oh, I bet there are stories galore!

    Wish I could be a bug at the event this Sat.

  4. Marilyn Fenn Says:


    I love your post! And I applaud your perseverence. Your conclusion — to make every stroke a good stroke — is so true for all of us artists, whether we are painting inside or out, representationally or abstractly.

    Thanks for a good read and a good lesson.

    Your fellow blogger,

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