Painting at Violette’s Lock

August in Maryland is still very hot and humid. I managed to find a lovely shady spot along Lock 23 otherwise known as Violette’s Lock named after the last locktender, Alfred Violette. As I sit here in this idyllic spot I think about how life must have been when Mr. Violette worked here and so many others working along the massive C&O Canal.

A little history about the C& O Canal: “It began on July 4, 1828. By 1850, the canal extended 185 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. “In August 1829, the canal company began importing indentured laborers to Alexandria and Georgetown. These workers were promised meat three times a day, vegetables, and a “reasonable allowance of whiskey”, $8 to $12 per day, $20 for masons. Still, many were dissatisfied with the slave-like conditions. Friction between the largest groups, from Ireland and Germany, meant they had to be kept in different crews”. It was a very dangerous and the life was very hard on these crews due to a lack of hygiene and housing. The canal was finally beat by the B& O Railroad and rendered obsolete It was made a national historic park in 1938 and is now the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal national historic park. It is a glorious place to paint, walk, bike, fish, observe nature including much wildlife. I highly recommend visiting some of the many lovely places along the C&O Canal.

Walking along the towpath I spot so many painting opportunities along the beautiful Potomac River. Today I wanted to concentrate on the canal. Working on my newly acquired New Wave Ugo Plein Air Pochade Box which I thought I would try out to use on hiking excursions where weight is very important. This little box only weighs two pounds. It’s fine for quick studies but is a bit precarious perched on your lap like I am doing here. As I said before, I still prefer my half- sized french easel but this nifty little box is great for quick studies and working from inside my car on a cold or windy day. I used to use a cigar box for this purpose but this little box is much sturdier.

STUDIO VERSION : Using the little plein air study and a photo reference I decided to paint a larger version of Violet’s Lock. I decided to use a slightly different format. Instead of replicated the same elongated rectangle of the plein air study (10×16) I used a different ratio. This is a stretched linen canvas size (16×20) By changing the vertical measurement I will be able to include more of the foreground. I also decided to add a kayaker in the middle ground which gives the painting an interesting focal point.

Taking my cues from the plein air study and a photo reference, I begin to re-construct a composition on the new canvas. I always begin with measurements and angles. I try to link all the large elements into a pleasing two-dimensional design. I am using my usual split primary palette. A split primary palette uses a warm and cool of each of the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. The reds are: cadmium red/alizarin crimson. The yellows are: cadmium yellow medium/yellow ochre. The blues are ultramarine blue/cobalt blue. In addition I have added Viridian green, sap green, burnt sienna, burnt umber & white.

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