I recently went on a 5-day plein air painting trip to the town of Tumut in NSW. The weather was perfect, with the main challenge being the changing light. Unlike most other places in New South Wales, where evergreen trees predominate, around the Tumut region, there are plenty of deciduous trees which add lots of Autumn colors – hence the reason for my visit.
No matter how quickly you work when painting outdoors, the light will not stay the same. Either clouds will move over the light source or the movement of the sun will change the light and shadow pattern you saw when you selected your subject.
In this situation, I make sure I establish a strong mental image of what attracted me to the subject and especially the character and placement of the light and shadows at that time.
As I prefer to paint into the light, this makes it particularly hard, physically, when painting river or lake scenes as the light can end up shining directly into your eyes. It is doubly important to paint fast in this situation.
Interestingly, some of your best work may come about in these limited time situations. When you know you have less than half the time you normally take to paint a watercolor, you are forced to simplify your composition. If something is not critical to your subject, then you have to leave if out. With no time for fiddling you can end up with a much looser and fresher watercolor painting!
When the light is coming from the side, the challenge is not as great. With early morning side light, the length of shadows might change, but unless you are painting close to mid-day, when the light will move from one side of your subject to another, the light will not vary dramatically. In this situation, I am more concerned with keeping my painting out of direct light so I don’t get bright sunlight hitting my paper surface. I do this by finding a shady spot to paint from. Under a densely foliaged tree or to the side of some building or structure.
Here are some paintings I did during my trip: