Studio Notes

a pair of geese flew by; outside my studio window; i’m glad elephants don’t fly

Summer days are coming to an end, and I am getting as much plein air painting done as possible.

The leaves on the trees are showing signs of change, and the temperature is gradually dropping. Indian Summer. Fall is not far away. My friends from Studio Rilievo and I organised an impromptu plein air painting outing in Kennett Square. We chose Anson B Nixon Park. That day was my second time painting in this park. In fact, it was the farthest I have ventured into the park to paint. My first time, I was about 30 feet into the park. Ticks. I do not like ticks.

From Studio Rilievo: David Hoffrichter (left) and Tracey Rothenberger (right)

From Studio Rilievo: David Hoffrichter (left) and Tracey Rothenberger (right)

Anyway, we parked the car and walked down to the park’s community garden. It was in between the old waterworks building and Red Clay Creek. David and Tracey from Studio Rilievo decided to face the creek, but I was rather fascinated by the community garden and the old waterworks building. Especially how the light was highlighting its roof. There was a beautiful contrast of light and dark going on. I was also curious about the community garden. I wondered how I could include this garden in the foreground without details, but just enough brush strokes and colours and values to suggest its presence without taking away the viewer’s attention from the old waterworks building. It was a fun personal challenge to do this in about 60 or 90 minutes. I like to think the former because it makes a good big-fish story.

The old waterworks building in the middle ground, and the community garden in the foreground.

The old waterworks building in the middle ground, and the community garden in the foreground.

In the below image the inset painting is larger than the painting on the easel. the reason is that I could not set back far enough. Any farther back I would be standing in Red Clay Creek. A larger panel would have worked, but I did not have a larger panel and I did not want to paint any larger than what I had. So I made mental adjustments as I drew and painted on my panel from where I stood. In photography speak, I had to zoom out with my variable focal lens.


Sight-sizing was a drawing method that I have learned on my own and a bit farther on in school. It has its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that it could help make “correct” drawings or paintings, and the disadvantage is that it sometimes could hinder the imagination and the creative process. I think Picasso said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” I lifted this off the Internet so I am taking the origin of this saying with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, Picasso or not, it has some truth in that saying. 


I find sight-sizing beneficial for me because it helps me understand and appreciate the relationship of forms and the space they occupy—it has an important place in composition. However it could also hinder me. So if I did not set my easel far back enough, and I forget to make the mental adjustments so that my subject will fit within the confine of my panel, I would run out of space to describe what I wanted to describe. What shall I do? Fortunately I have a habit of already having a mental image and size of what I want according to my panel size. This was a carry-over habit from my photography days when I would settle on one focal length so that I could immediately imagine the framing before I look through the view finder. I usually already have a sense of the composition I want.

The old waterworks building and the community garden. Oil on linen, 10 by 14 inches.

The old waterworks building and the community garden. Oil on linen, 10 by 14 inches.