She commented that since we both live in a part of the world where the sun flits in and out, casting shadows one moment, and a few moments later, when it is behind a cloud, there are no shadows at all, we have far more to contend with than those who live in areas with continuous sunshine. However, even for those lucky souls, painting en plein air still means that they have to paint fast if they want to ensure that the shadow shapes they first noticed, remain virtually the same shape and size...particularly in a garden scene, or a street scene like the one here.
So - what to do, if you really want to paint out of doors, and not from a photo which of course solves the problem by fixing shadows in place for ever! I so enjoyed working outdoors in Greece; painting this picture back at home, from a 4"x6" photo, could not begin to compare to the adrenalin rush of working from the real scene; I remember the heat, the whitewash (and pastel) dust on my jeans, the passing scruffy stray dog and the skinny cats, the encouraging old lady who shuffled up to see what I was doing, the smell of the foliage, and a little later, the delicious aroma of a lunch being prepared in a nearby house which made my tummy growl, and the sense of peace, enchantment and joy I felt - it all comes back when I look at this picture.
Phew -lovely memories.......but now, back to work...........
On an overcast day, you have less problems to deal with, no strong shadows, and clear local colours - this means you may be able to work for a longer time and at a relaxed pace. BUT When the sun comes out, you have to work in a totally different way. You simply have to work faster. And be very vigilant....when you are absorbed in your painting, you may look up to find that an area, brilliantly lit when you first saw it, is now in deep shadow! Or vice versa!
These are just a few basic suggestions. You also have to bear in mind that bright sunlight on your scene will illuminate what it touches, and all the tone values in the scene will be quite different when the sun disappears behind a cloud.
I cannot show you, with images, how to work fast! This is a matter of practice, and discipline. Set yourself time limits, even use a buzzer or timer if you have to, to stop yourself from fiddling - this really works. I will simply say that my method is always to begin with a thumbnail sketch, sometimes pencil, sometimes simple watercolours, I squint to capture the main shapes within the rectangle, and work very fast into a sketchbook, just a tiny image no bigger than 2-3". Then, for my main picture, I stick to the shadow shapes I found in my thumbnail. Here is a thumbnail sketch - 2-3 minutes at the most, if that - no details, only main light and dark shapes - as you can see, it is very rough but it helped enormously as the sun moved faster than I had expected -it always does, in a street scene like this, you can almost watch the shadows as they gradually change! The painting, which was then completed mostly on the spot, finishing touches added later in the studio, is the one at the top of this post.