Chasing the light after a week of rain.

"Restless" 9x12 oil on linen.

I need another two plein air paintings.  It’s submission time for some of the plein air events, and I don’t feel I have the pieces I need.  It’s been rainy, cold and occasionally snowy.  Worst of all, my strongest paintings are not of cloudy overcast days, I need the sun to peek out.  I’m painting on a studio piece today with my gear ready to leave in case the sun peeks out today, so the forecast is predicting.  It looks like it will rain, so in my effort to jumpstart my fitness challenge after being almost two weeks of sick, I decide to run four miles.  Mind you, I haven’t run in a while and even then my runs were a mile in recent months.  After the first lap around my neighborhood, it begins to torrential down pour on me.  At least it is 60 degrees outside.  As I make my way around long run, I look up in hopes of a fast moving sky to indicate it could clear by afternoon.  It’s raining so hard though I can’t tell what it’s doing.  I’m soaked to the bone by mile eight and exhausted.  No chance of sun in the next hour, I clean up and get back to my studio painting. 

An hour later, I pop the garage door open.  Another hour rolls by and nothing.  After lunch though, the sun peeks out for a fraction of a second, giving me hope.  Back in the studio glimpses of the sun come and go, but I look out and see a small patch of blue sky on the horizon.  On the weather app, it says that the cloud cover will push off over the Atlantic.  My chance to paint today is looking better.  By three pm, the sun has just broken and I have less than three hours of light.  I realize now I have a delay, no small panels to use.  Luckily for me Jerry’s Artarama is just down the street, time to pack up and go.  It takes me 15 mins to get my panels, longer than I wanted.  Somehow on my decision to go the marina to paint, I’ve chosen the wrong route and I deal with almost 40 minutes of traffic to get to there.  I am trying to stay focused with every jam and construction obstacle I encounter. 

I will have about two hours left of light, on my way to the marina, but I realize I will passing the Little Creek train yard.  If I am lucky an engine or two will be there, so I take 10 minutes to detour down the backroad and muddy potholes to take a look.  Plenty of cars with no charisma or color and no engines, back to plan A, the marina. 

Five minutes later, I get there and I have to see what is the best subject to paint.  The boats are always in a constant state of rotation, so most of what I saw last time I painted here as changed.  Back and forth between the fishing boats, the boat lift and the dry docked sailboats.  Ten minutes later, I decide to go with a hard docked sailboat.  It has the most going for it composition and light wise, plus I know what the light and shadows will do as the sun goes down.  I set up and begin to lay in my underground painting.  Five minutes later I realize it’s too big and centered, wipe away and start again.  Trucks are going by slowly as I know they are trying to figure out what the hell I am doing.  I stay focused and ignore the cars and the people walking by to the restaurant next to me.  The composition is almost done, but it needs something else.  A orange cone is near by in the shade, so I walk over and place it in the foreground, but not to obstruct any cars.  The cottage houses with their A Frame roofs are going to be too busy, plus with the light quickly fading, I decide to leave them out of the rough in. 

Once I start laying in paint, I am very aware of the creeping shadows that are now threatening to rob me of color and light in just a short time.  In the span of an hour, critical thinking and gut reaction takes over.  I glance to the back of the restaurant and notice a group of workers on the their smoke break.  I need a figure to make this painting work, so off I go to get one of them to stand in for me to gesture in.  I get even more lucky as the guy eagerly volunteers, mentioning he has worked in the boatyard a few years.  I tell him where to stand and for a two minutes he blends into the scene as if it were his boat that he was working on.  I get my few strokes to imply a figure and get back to work.  The shadows are creeping in and I have to focus on the masses and save all the minute details for later, if there is time.  I debate on the color of the sky and decide to reach for the thalo blue to get that warm late afternoon sky.  A few minutes of mixing and I get the right color.  The hull of the boat is tricky because of the sharp lines and no room for error without a serious wipe away, but I learned a few tricks on my own the last time and they work out here perfectly. 

It’s the last fifteen minutes of light for me, the sun has about twenty five minutes but the shadows will reach my scene before then.  Furiously, I work on the details of the rudder and the propeller that I am just now noticing.  Funny how details aren’t discovered till near the end.  I get the mast and a couple rigging lines, add detail to the back of the fence and mass in the foreground.  Add the telephone poles, random clutter in the background and sharpen up the shadows and darken where needed.  Detail the figure again and add scaffolding.  The shadows are covering the boat now and it’s now down to the last details I can muster before the cold sets in.  I have not dressed appropriately and the chill quickly starts to affect my hands.  By sunset, I’ve finished enough to pack up go home and add the last details to the railings, telephone wires and other small stuff.  By the time I do get home, help out with the kids homework, eat dinner, tuck them in bed, iron clothes, and wash dishes it's midnight.  I add  final details, sign and shoot the painting, import and color correct, and then call it a day.



Doug Clarke is an award winning Plein Air and Studio painter based out of Virginia Beach. He works in oils creating plein air and studio paintings.

Graduating with Honors and Magna Cum Laude from Virginia Commonwealth University, Doug's work has evolved from commercial to fine art.  As an active member of the Norfolk Drawing Group, the painter strives for excellence in his figure drawings and paintings.  His commitment to life drawing and painting led him outdoors to paint "en plein air".  There he realized his passion for capturing light and nature in his own personal way.

Doug has been commissioned to paint both Harborfest and Neptune Festival posters for 2014.  Awards include 1st place awards for Plein Air 757,  Williamsburg Plein Air and the Plein Air Mount Lebanon quick draw competitions, as well as a three time winner of the Historic Fort Monroe Plein Air Exhibition.  His paintings are collected far and abroad internationally.  Doug’s work is currently represented by Harbor Gallery and the Ellen Moore Gallery.

In pursuit of mastering his craft, he has participates in local and national plein air events

When painting outdoors, Doug is very passionate about capturing the vanishing landscapes of Southeastern Virginia.