After having such a great time painting outdoors on my recent trip to Mexico, I jumped on the chance to join the Opus Outdoor Painting Challenge this weekend. Opus is a great chain of art stores here in British Columbia. On Saturday, each of the seven locations in the province hosted a local outdoor painting day. I joined the group at the Opus store in downtown Vancouver. Once we had our canvases and art boards, each of us went off on our own to find inspiration. The only rules were to paint outside at a location within the defined map area and to be back at the store with our finished work by 3 pm (about 4.5 hours later).
Even though the area around the downtown store is incredibly urban (it is the downtown core, after all), there are pockets where nature dominates. To find inspiration, I headed east to Main Street and north to the waterfront. I almost stopped at the top of the walkway that overlooks the train yards, but kept walking down to a little known area called Crab Park.
The park is a quiet oasis in the downtown eastside, with a path along the rocky waterfront, a small beach, a grassy hill and field, and a playground for kids. It’s a small public space carved out between the railyards and the port. I love going down there to watch the tug boats. It was easy to choose them as my subject matter.
In order to get the best view of the boats for painting, I set up my easel on the rocks. This location had the added bonus of being sheltered and giving me places to set my paints, water, lunch, and camera.
After setting up and further priming the canvas with a second layer of gesso, my first step was to paint a wash of colour over the whole canvas. This colour pokes through the painting and gives it a nice warm feeling at the end. I chose a terra cotta colour, and then started adding in the blue-green of the water.
Once the water was in, I painted in the sky and then the mountains.
Once I was happy with the background, I mixed some brown paint (the one colour I needed that I had forgotten at my studio) and sketched in the boats, boat houses, dock and poles, and the red cranes at the port.
Once those elements were in place, I started filling in them in with colour and detail.
My last step was to use a fine black pen to create more defined edges. I then went back over the painting to heighten some of the contrasts and brighten some of the colours. By this point in the day, I was very aware of the time and racing to get back to Opus by 3 pm.
If I’d had more time, I would have reworked the water, which I still might do in my studio. I will do a few more touch ups, but by and large I’m very happy with the result. I’m also inspired to get back outside to do more painting now that the weather is warming up! Here’s the finished piece: