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Bainbridge Island En Plein Air

Tucked discretely away on Bainbridge Island’s west side near the Agate Passage crossing, the Bloedel Reserve is a paradise of lush meticulously groomed gardens and swaths of forested land that look untouched by civilization (but they most certainly have been). The Reserve, once the empty nest home of Prentice and Virgina Bloedel (super art patron Virginia Wright’s parents) is now open to the public, for a modest fee, and is a favorite escape for nature enthusiasts, bird watchers, aspirational gardeners, and artists of all disciplines.

Last month several artists, both amateur and professional alike, headed out to the manicured property to take up the practice of plein air painting, a past time steeped in romanticized art history and often bathed in the glorious rays of warm summer sun. The En Plein Air workshop was led by Kimberly Trowbridge, one of our favorite Seattle painters and also a newly appointed Gage Academy Atelier instructor. What follows is the photographic diary of Trowbridge’s workshop at the idyllic Bloedel Reserve.

Here’s a little about the workshop from Kimberly herself:

Landscape Painting in Oils with Kimberly Trowbridge was a 3-day workshop at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, and took place on July 24 – 26, 2015. In this 3-day workshop students developed multiple landscape studies onsite.

Kimberly Trowbridge is an instructor on figure painting and color theory, and leads plein-air painting tours in Spain and Portugal, in collaboration with Saranjan Tours. Fall 2015 will be the launching of the Trowbridge Atelier, a contemporary painting intensive, through Gage Academy of Art, held at the Miller Studio in Georgetown (space still available!).

 Personal Note: Several years ago I taught myself how to paint onsite in the landscape, in preparation for my first plein-air painting tour with students, which took place in northern Spain. Since then, plein-air painting has become a meaningful, spiritual practice for me, a form of meditation in nature through responding to color relationships. I consider my landscape studies “raw data” and I use them to inform my larger studio works.

The three days of my landscape workshop landed in an overcast, rainy pocket of weather amid an unusually dry summer in the Pacific NW. Because of this, my group of eleven students and I set-up our easels underneath the shelter overlooking the Japanese Zen gardens. The even, overcast lighting for much of the day was a perfect opportunity to view subtle differences in hue, especially the greens, without the high contrast of light and dark to obscure them.

The three days of my landscape workshop landed in an overcast, rainy pocket of weather amid an unusually dry summer in the Pacific NW. Because of this, my group of eleven students and I set-up our easels underneath the shelter overlooking the Japanese Zen gardens. The even, overcast lighting for much of the day was a perfect opportunity to view subtle differences in hue, especially the greens, without the high contrast of light and dark to obscure them.

In my landscape classes, I like to focus on the different neighborhoods of greens— the intense yellow-greens v. the warm earthy orange-greens v. the cool bluish greens. Mixing these differences on your palette helps you to recognize them in nature, and gives you a vocabulary for tackling the overwhelming “sameness” of the green landscape. Favorite quote: I do not paint things. I paint the differences between them, Matisse.  I encourage students to put down clear blocks of color, avoiding too much blending, so that they can observe what the colors themselves are doing in relationship to each other.

In my landscape classes, I like to focus on the different neighborhoods of greens— the intense yellow-greens v. the warm earthy orange-greens v. the cool bluish greens. Mixing these differences on your palette helps you to recognize them in nature, and gives you a vocabulary for tackling the overwhelming “sameness” of the green landscape. Favorite quote: I do not paint things. I paint the differences between them, Matisse. I encourage students to put down clear blocks of color, avoiding too much blending, so that they can observe what the colors themselves are doing in relationship to each other.

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Painting by Lucrezia Paxson

Painting by Lucrezia Paxson

Student Landscape Study, Day 1: Clear, abstract shapes that express the differences between the observed greens. This composition has  a beautiful focal point: the temperature contrast of the yellow-orange field glowing behind the deep shadowy pines. (Artist: Sherry Lauf)

Student Landscape Study, Day 1: Clear, abstract shapes that express the differences between the observed greens. This composition has a beautiful focal point: the temperature contrast of the yellow-orange field glowing behind the deep shadowy pines. (Artist: Sherry Lauf)

Student Landscape Study, Day 2: A dark, hazy day that inspired us to start our compositions with thin, inky black oil paint. We let the black mingle with the other colors on our palette, creating rich, subtle tertiaries. In this study I love the pattern of warm-cool shapes that zig-zag us through the landscape, and the beautiful passage of the upper right where those initial, gestural black marks remain. (Artist: Laurie Weckel)

Student Landscape Study, Day 2: A dark, hazy day that inspired us to start our compositions with thin, inky black oil paint. We let the black mingle with the other colors on our palette, creating rich, subtle tertiaries. In this study I love the pattern of warm-cool shapes that zig-zag us through the landscape, and the beautiful passage of the upper right where those initial, gestural black marks remain. (Artist: Laurie Weckel)

On our third and final day, we ventured off of the Zen deck— some of us working in a meadow of birches, while others worked a little further in the forest of tall evergreens. We continued to build our compositions by organizing shapes of color. This is the underlying foundation of my teaching— understanding how to recognize and manipulate contrasts in value, temperature, and intensity in order to express your unique vision.  I am interested in painted studies that are honest documents of one’s perception. I tell students to go ahead and take a photograph and get the “capturing a likeness” desire out of the way. Painting has a much more interesting role to play.

On our third and final day, we ventured off of the Zen deck— some of us working in a meadow of birches, while others worked a little further in the forest of tall evergreens. We continued to build our compositions by organizing shapes of color. This is the underlying foundation of my teaching— understanding how to recognize and manipulate contrasts in value, temperature, and intensity in order to express your unique vision. I am interested in painted studies that are honest documents of one’s perception. I tell students to go ahead and take a photograph and get the “capturing a likeness” desire out of the way. Painting has a much more interesting role to play.

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Student landscape studies. These are two of my favorites from the final day- In both of these, I love the organization of color contrasts and the elegant combination of line and shape. (11. Artist: Gillian Theis)

Student landscape studies. These are two of my favorites from the final day- In both of these, I love the organization of color contrasts and the elegant combination of line and shape. (11. Artist: Gillian Theis)

artwork by Rita Arnstein

artwork by Rita Arnstein

If you haven’t gotten a chance to experience the Bloedel Reserve in person I couldn’t recommend a trip there more highly. A scenic ferry ride across the Puget Sound and a short drive or bike ride will get you to the Reserve where you can find trails galore through gardens and forests, a stately home with art on display, and a full schedule of happenings from live music to lectures, and even a few garden parties. Memberships at a reasonable price are available for anyone who feels that this is a getaway worth frequent visits.

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