Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Plein Air Night in the City
 Last night we hit an alley behind Denver's Oxford Hotel for some plein air studies. If I've done night sketching before, my brain can't dredge up that memory. But it's doubtful I'll forget this outing; the atmosphere was haunting, the cold severe, and the light richly evocative. In this case, a fluorescent blue light was shining on the roof, contrasting with warm light from the panes.
 Even though my New Year's resolution is to concentrate on watercolor, the fear of losing my paints to freezing temperatures had me scrounging the studio for an alternate medium. I chose an old pad of brown pastel paper and some Prismacolor sticks and pencils--even though I'm not fond of any of that. Sketching with gloves on created some unwanted smudging, but better that than frostbite.

This old, nineteenth-century window caught my eye immediately. I love the look of yellow-lit windows, and last night this warm one particularly beckoned. Not having night-sketching experience, we'd talked about the different colors of night lights over a beer beforehand, so I was really trying to sear the variety into my eyes, as well as get the values correct. I only had black, white and blue Prismacolors with me, so I added the yellow once back in the studio.

The other guys used water media, with vodka to keep things from freezing, but after an hour, frost was developing on their paintings and their water-cups were slushy.
Even my media choice was affected; when I got on the train for home, I watched my drawing become damp from the thawing wax of the Prismacolor pencils.
 And while I was leaning on a dumpster instead of Hardy's "coppice gate", I'm not going to forget the evening, or the beckoning light from that warm window.

I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter's dregs made desolate

      The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

      Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

      Had sought their household fires.
                                                             Thomas Hardy, from The Darkling Thrush 

Thanks for reading!

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