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Nature on the Canvas


Catalina Island Conservancy members joined plein air artist John Cosby for a special event to learn about painting on the landscape.

Crisp and clear blue skies and ocean greeted artists and art lovers alike during Catalina Island Conservancy’s ‘Stroll & Sketch’ Member Event. On May 6, Conservancy members joined renowned plein air artist John Cosby for an afternoon of instruction and inspiration in the wildlands at Shark Harbor.

Members received goodie bags with key art supplies to help them on their journey of learning how to do a value study that could then be evolved into a plein air painting. Cosby first explained the importance of a value study that shows shapes and values ranging from the white of paper to very dark.

“Plein air painting is tricky,” said Cosby, who will be a returning featured artist at the Catalina Island Conservancy: The Wild Side Art Show & Sale October 22. “The whole idea is that the structure of a painting is based on light and shadow patterns – not details.”

He explained that keeping things simple and using big broad strokes is key. A set of 10 Tombow Dual Brush Pens in Grayscale and a Bee Paper Company Super Deluxe Mixed Media paper pad provided the budding artists the creative tools they needed to begin their value study journey. Attendees also received Conservancy plant and wildlife guides to dive deeper into the natural environment of Catalina.

When it comes to an initial value study, Cosby recommended using three different pens to end up with four values once the white of the paper is considered.

“Use the paper as white. Everything that isn’t white, you can scribble in,” he advised. “Then you put the darker value in for the shadows.”

He saves the darkest value for foreground shadows, using the second-most dark for more distant shadows. “Things that are farther away are less strong tonally and have a little more air. We want to create air within a painting,” Cosby said, adding that shadows are akin to the bones of a painting and should come very close to connecting.

Throughout the day of coastal and creative exploration he emphasized that failure is a part of the process and encouraged participants to embrace challenges. Cosby later painted a small scene live while talking through the process including tips such as placing the main subject in the ‘eyes’ of a painting and arrowing from your area of interest.

“Painting isn’t a science, it’s an art,” he added.

“And I’m just practicing it.”

Conservancy members receive invites and discounts to unique Island experiences just like this. Check the Conservancy website for membership information and upcoming events.