Opus Resource Library
Landscape Artist Dennon Walantus on Ampersand Gessobord
Opus Resource Library
Warm Evening Glow, 8x10 oil painting on Ampersand Gessobord
Warm Evening Glow   8x10, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Gessobord plein air painter Dennon Walantus found himself constantly running out of subjects to paint, which led him to the surrounding Adirondack Mountains landscape with a cigar box easel and oil paint. 

Q: Your favorite work from another artist is West Point, Prout’s Neck, by Winslow Homer. What is it about this piece that draws you to it?

As an Adirondack Regional Artist, I feel very connected to past artists who worked in the mountains and on the East Coast. Winslow Homer is one of the best at depicting an honest image of the rugged landscape around him, and West Point, Prout’s Neck, is a great example. I first saw this painting when I had just started studying art in college on a trip to the Clark Museum. I was focused on still life work at the time, but once I stepped into the room with this painting, something clicked. The red, warm glow of the evening twilight is really bold and exciting, but once you investigate closer, you find less saturated colors in the “greys” that are just as masterful in color choice and brushwork and are constantly shifting in temperature. This painting sparked a desire in me to capture the landscape with this much energy, beginning my plein air career.

Arbutus Firelight, 10x8, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Q: You weren’t introduced to painting until college, when you decided to change your concentration from Environmental Science to Fine Art. Being drawn to nature, was plein air painting the obvious choice for you?

At first, no, as strange as that sounds. I have always had a love for the outdoors and exploration, which is why I first began college as an Environmental Science major. I took an oil painting class very early on, and although I fell in love with it, I wasn’t exactly comfortable with it enough to find out what direction to go. It’s like learning a new language; I had to learn it before speaking. My first two years of painting were almost strictly still life, with a lot of life drawing practice. I painted really tight, almost “photo-realistic” still lives to hone my skills with the paint and learn what I could do with it. When I started classes on art history while painting, I started to see what the impressionists did and wanted to loosen up my work and find moments like that in my world. In 2017 I got my first French Easel and brought my studio outdoors!

Fishing Brook Wildflowers, 8x10, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Q: You have a specific and limited color palette for your outdoor plein air painting. Tell us more about this.

When I paint outdoors, I strive to be as efficient as possible to capture what I see before the light completely changes. This has limited my palette to the essentials most of the time.

Working this way helps keep color harmony in the painting and helps you learn to expand your ability with a limited palette. In my standard practice, I stick with two variations of each primary, Titanium White, and I like to have a “warm” and “cool” temperature version of each primary: French Ultramarine and Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Red Light and Burnt Umber, and Cadmium Yellow Light and Yellow Ochre. Once you feel completely comfortable mixing all you need with the primaries, it becomes much easier to experiment and have it work out in your favor!

Ogunquit Golden Hour, 8x10, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Q: How did you come to incorporate so much texture into your work?

The texture began to find its way into my work when I started plein air painting. Working so quickly and with buttery paint, it felt natural to me to use it as it already sits. One thing that always caught my eye when studying painting was seeing the artists’ choices as they painted, and I felt like I was finding my voice when I left that mark. Another reason for the impasto is practical for me. You don’t have time for the oil paint to dry between layers when working outdoors. To keep the colors you mix fresh on the panels, quick, decisive marks with the palette knife or brush stop the colors from blending as you put them down.

Northern Ski Trails, 8x10, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Q: Painting the feeling you get versus what you see is something you strive for. Can you touch on that?

Painting based on the feeling you get when you first lay your eyes on the subject matter is how I like to work. When painting outdoors, all the elements affect you while painting the wind, the sun, or lack of, and sounds. These all play on my mind while working on a painting. These senses impact my color choice and mark-making while out painting. I put the image I see through my own filters, exaggerating my color choices or skewing them on the temperature scale more one way (toward a more warm or cool painting). I do this because I want my work to be focused on how we experience nature. I want the viewer to glimpse what I felt while out in nature.

Turquoise Sea, 12x16, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Q: Once you have painted a smaller piece outdoors, you use that as a reference for a larger studio piece. What changes happen to the artwork from small scale to large scale?

After many sessions painting plein air, I eventually found a new composition I like and think will work well on a large surface. Outdoors I typically paint 8”x10” or smaller, which can be expanded up to 36”x48” in the studio. This sometimes takes some tweaks to the composition to add excitement and movement to a work that size. Also, the addition of layering happens a lot more for me. When working outdoors, I almost always finish a painting within two or three hours and call it complete, working alla prima in one layer of wet paint. When I work on a large painting in the studio, I keep this mentality in the first layer. I try to quickly cover the canvas as accurately as possible using a lot of paint, blending wet paint as I work, and covering the surface with large brushes and palette knives. Then the work begins to change after this stage. I work with a second layer of paint, adding more details, adjusting edges, and pushing the light and contrast a step farther than my plein air works. I like how this allows for a more immersive experience for the viewer, whereas small works are typically an intimate experience.

Campfire Stories, 10x8, oil on Ampersand Gessobord

Q: What do you love most about Ampersand panels for your work?

I have found Ampersand to be the most durable and versatile surface I’ve found to paint on. The Gessobord series is perfect for my process of working and building up to the impasto layers of paint. Thin layers at the beginning of the painting glide onto the surface with ease and are uninterrupted by texture. Then as I build up layers of paint, the surface grit and strength of the panels allow a physical painting without damaging the surface with my knife (I apologize to all the canvas I’ve ripped through). My favorite part about Ampersand panels is how they let the artists’ work shine; through all the brushwork and layers, there is a sturdy, reliable, consistent surface to build upon.

Artist Bio:

Growing up in West Chazy, NY, Dennon Walantus spent many hours exploring the outdoors. After taking his first class in oil painting at Clinton Community College, he knew he had to pursue a life of art. Painting with oils felt so natural and rewarding. He moved to SUNY Plattsburgh and changed his major to study in the BFA Program.

Dennon's primary focus when painting is to capture an immediate response to the landscape, to use paint to suggest the changing light, seasons, and moods of the weather and atmosphere provided. Most of his plein air works are quick oil sketches that provide glimpses of form, color, and energy that he typically brings back to the studio to reference for larger works.

Dennon currently lives and works in his home/studio in Schuyler Falls, NY, and takes annual trips to the coast of Maine. To see more of Dennon's work, visit his website, Instagram, and Etsy.

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