Reclaiming An Unfinished Plein Air Painting

I sat down at my easel. I was uninspired to start something new, but I had the urge to paint. Paint what?

I rummaged around my desk area looking through some of my ready-toned papers, when I found an old plein air painting I had started and left incomplete from a few years ago. In fact, it was one of my first plein air attempts!

Aha! In the back of my mind I remembered the day well. It was a fairly early summer morning, mainly overcast, but I had found shafts of sunlight peeking through a wall of trees at the edge of our property, causing my eyes to dance back and forth between the lights and shadows playing on the grass and fencing.

Hmm…. I had never gone back to try and finish it. Why? Well, at the time I guess I didn’t have anything more to say! I should also mention that this particular painting was also an experiment with a paper new to me: Canson Mi-Teintes “Touch”—a sanded paper by Canson.

I vaguely remembered doing a watercolor underpainting before applying any pastel, but I have no photo of that.

Here is the painting as I left it back then: 

I decided to see what I could do to say something more than I had when I first attempted this painting.

I wanted to discover how I had changed and hopefully grown artistically.

So the first thing I needed to do was to think about what I liked about the original attempt and what I wanted to change.

I decided that I really liked the sky—it definitely reminded me of that overcast morning with some moisture in the summer air.

I also liked the fence posts and my initial attempts at describing the light that was hitting them.

I felt the composition was weak. The grassy path looked more like stairs than a path with depth. 

Also, the values didn’t have enough contrast. Where were the darks?

Armed with a plan, the first thing I did was try to restore some tooth to the paper by brushing off quite a bit of the original’s pastel—mainly in the foreground and midground.

Next I used a dark Nupastel to deepen the areas of darkest values.
I also darkened the closest fence post as it was supposed to be in shadow.

As soon as I began adding pastel, I remembered how much I disliked this paper—and I STILL DO—UGH!!!
It felt like I fought the paper’s pebbly texture the entire time I used it—even with my softest pastels—not good…..

Determined to proceed but relieved of the burden to make this painting “framable”, I began to add more pastel.

As I worked, I continually reminded myself of what drew me to paint this scene in the first place. I was drawn to that interplay of light and shadow.

I also I wanted to crop my final image to be slightly less vertical.

Here is the final image:


My mission to say something more was definitely a challenge. 

Had I time and the inclination, I might say something more about the light, but for now this is enough.

This plein air/studio creation won’t get framed.

I don’t value it for the end product, but for the memory it helps me recall and for the chance to see my own growth!

Try reclaiming one of your own old artworks and see how you’ve grown. You might surprise yourself! 🙂

Till next time, 

Stay challenged!


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