About twenty-five years ago a collection was taken at Dutchtown School to purchase azalea bushes to plant along the front of the school under the oak and pine trees. They were in five gallon buckets and were planted by the custodians. I remember how dinky they appeared when they were first put in the ground. The azaleas survived heavy traffic passing on Highway 73 from Interstate 10 towards the chemical plants on the Mississippi, a road-widening project to meet the needs of an exploding population, and the heavy-duty lawn mowers of the maintenance crews. Some of the remaining bushes must be over ten feet tall.
After all twenty-five years I thought I could predict the week the azaleas would be at their best; I was probably off a week. One day after classes were over I took my old Julien easel, a hastily prepped pastel board and a set of student grade soft pastels outside the classroom and captured those magenta flowers before they faded away. Even though it’s just a sketch, it was great to be outdoors with the bumble bees, breeze, and occasional observer. And the never-ending traffic on Highway 73.
One of my painting friends said that plein air painting during spring was not as interesting as during the autumn season. Everything is green. That’s the problem with some landscapes. There is just too much green. Spring has a range of palest yellow to a medium range accented with colorful flowers. The richness of summer foliage can be almost blinding, especially in the dazzling sun. Autumn’s green is rich and more varied, touched with reds and ochres. Here in South Louisiana, green is part of the landscape year round, even during winter.
An artist commented that he counted over twenty different hues of green in the prairie landscape of North Mississippi where I grew up. Really? Was that all he could count?
I started painting outdoors about fifteen years ago after working almost exclusively from photographs. I took a workshop with Allayne Stevens through our local art guild. Not only was it my first plein air adventure, I was using oil, with which I had little experience. I was amazed how differently I saw colors in life as opposed to photos. It was challenging to figure out how to make them.
Green is one of my favorite colors, but it is frustrating trying to make the correct hue and value for all of the different ones out there. There must be hundreds of different tube colors of green. I collected quite a few from workshop instructors’ supply lists as well as from reading what other artists use. I try to limit the number of colors on my palette, not only to keep the amount of paint I carry to a minimum, but to achieve a more harmonious composition. I am still struggling to achieve the green I perceive. I love bright colors and have a difficult time neutralizing them. Or maybe that will just be my thing…brilliant greens, and lots of them.