Here's a plein air painting I did the other day. Maybe you could critique it for me? I call it "The Road Home" because it reminds me of driving down to visit my mother. How I miss her larder and Ganesh cones.
Rusty, you are
CONFOUNDING COLOR WITH VALUE!
or how about in this Gruppe? Squint, that will make it even clearer.
Your painting looks "mushy" because you are making notes of the same value in both your lights and your shadows. Look at your mass of trees at the upper left, and compare it's value with the lower right hand corner that is in the light, common notes. You are including in your lights and your shadows notes of the same value.
I see this fault in students work routinely. When a note is deeper in value, the student responds not by dropping it's value, but by increasing it's saturation. Conversely, they respond to highly saturated colors in the light by painting them low in value. I have wondered if part of the fault lies in our language. In the everyday world we use the word "bright" to mean both high in value and full of color. We might say that a white room with many windows is bright, and then reject a screaming yellow color for the walls as "too bright". We do the same for the word "dark", a room could be too dark if it lacked light, yet we also might refer to a paint scheme as "too dark".
The easiest way to understand the difference is to think of a black and white photo, that is a pattern of values. Color doesn't appear. Color and value are both interrelated and hold hands in public. But they are two separate qualities that describe a note on your canvas. On gray days the values may grow very close together, but the division remains, even if the only deep shadow is in your pockets.
When we paint the landscape outside one of the most important tasks before us is to delineate the light and the shadow. This is drawing, even if it is tonal and not done with a pencil. It could be done in black and white, it is not a function of color.
"Rusty", look at your painting, see the nearest shadow crossing the road ? It shares values with the field in sunlight to it's left.
It is essential to use a different set of values to represent your lights and shadows. Imagine a deck of cards, with just two suits, dark cards and light cards. Now deal them into two piles on the table before you, dark cards in one pile and light cards the other. Sorting the lights from the darks in a painting is similar. There are two piles, light and dark. No card fits in either one, each card is either one of the light cards or one of the dark cards. Every time your brush hits that canvas you need to know, is this note in the dark or is it in the light?
Durham, North Carolina
I am teaching a workshop in Durham, on November 1-3, Here is the link to that.