Denver Watercolor Class Teacher Dennis Pendleton

New Mexico Sunlight


Watercolor Painting by Dennis Pendleton. Every Spring I teach a watercolor workshop in Taos New, Mexico and this is a painting I did in a little town just outside of Taos. This gives me the opportunity to write a little bit about plein air painting which is painting outdoors on location. First think about the time of day and the weather. Cast shadows are longer in the morning and evening but they can be interesting to paint any time of day. It was near the middle of the day when I painted this and I was particularly interested in the cast shadow from the bell tower across the roof and the fact that the white aspen trees were back lit. This means that they were in shadow from my point of view and they were in front of the old mission that was mostly in sunlight. This dark against light effect is wonderful for painting. As to the weather, I wanted to capture a sunny day in the high desert of New Mexico and the sunshine and cast shadows on the mission along with the clear blue sky were just what I desired.

When I decide on a plein air subject, I always walk around looking at it from different angles and view points. I am always amazed at how just moving a few feet left or right, up or down, can display a more interesting composition. Overlapping is another feature I consider when painting on location. This mission has been painted many times from the front however, I found it much more interesting from this view with the back lit aspen trees overlapping the whole vertical composition. The trees overlap the mission and they both overlap the distant mountain resulting in a nice sense of depth.

Simplifying, deciding what to include and what to leave out is another important aspect of plein air painting. I decided not to include the entire mission because I wanted to put my emphasis on the bell tower with the cross and cast shadow. Also, I simplified the distant mountain into a single dark green shape which I thought would work well with the pink color of the adobe church. Placement is another important consideration and because the bell tower was a high point of interest I placed it in the upper left on one of the points of the golden mean, also known as the rule of thirds.

A few other things to consider when painting outdoors are limiting your supplies down to bare essentials and deciding if you want to paint standing or sitting. For the adobe color I mixed cobalt violet with yellow ochre. The gray aspen trees are a mixture of cerulean blue with a little red and the distant mountain is perylene green. The cast shadows are just a darker version of what ever they are covering and the roof is a mixture of cadmium red and yellow ochre. I can hardly wait to get back to Taos and paint subject matter like this in the famous New Mexico sunlight. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton

Watercolor Artist's Blog by Dennis Pendleton

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