Quite a while ago I wrote about participating in a plein air (outside) painting event. Plein air was a new experience for me so I didn’t really know what I was doing. See http://williamswatercolors.com/blog/artists-on-the-loose/.
I have been doing a little more plein air recently. I took a one day demo class and have spent some time with the Dane County Plein Air painters association. An artist friend offered her country home as a locale for painting for a number of us one day. I also participated in Summer Music along the Sugar River in Paoli which had a couple dozen artists as part of the festivities. (We were part of the “entertainment” to bring in additional people to this festival event. “Come see the trained artists balance an easel on the rocks.”)
All paintings shown here are plein air.
Guess what – I still don’t know what I am doing. But I am getting better.
You set up an easel or painting surface outside in front of the scene you are painting. Travelling light is advisable. Ideally, you are making a quick painting, trying the capture the scene quickly before the conditions change.
Plein air is often done on small surfaces and used as a study for a larger more detailed painting. Although I try to create a finished painting from the process, sometimes adding the final touches back in the studio.
Sunlight changes can drastically alter the view. And wind or rain may make it impossible to continue. Watercolor paint dries out quickly outside.
You need to protect yourself from too much sun, too many bugs. Often people stop by to see what or how you are doing. They may comment but usually leave quickly when they realize you are not doing time lapse painting.
Here are the advantages: It forces you to work fast since lighting conditions and shadows (and colors!) may change readily. You must be able to match colors as you see them (and hopefully not everything looks green!). It forces you to paint what you see.
Composition and decision making skills are enhanced. Although you have the scene before you, you usually must decide what to emphasize and maybe even eliminate – on the fly. Plein air will often have a freshness that can be lacking in a studio painting because of the speed at which it must be completed.
I make a quick tour to determine where I want to paint. Find a flat enough place to set up. I am using a tripod with independent legs so I can handle somewhat uneven ground. Get all of the supplies over there. This includes bringing in water for painting since there may no be a water source available. Also water to drink! Paints, brushes, paper, paper towels.
I bring a small plastic viewfinder to help frame the scene. Then I do some quick pencil sketches. I take pictures of what I am painting, especially if the sun is popping in and out to capture the best colors and shadows.
I work on a flat surface and do a very brief outline drawing on the paper. Then working quickly to outwit changing conditions, I get background colors and shapes on the paper.
I try to spending usually no more than two hours on a painting. After that, lighting is very likely different. Plein air is more mentally taxing. Two hours is the limit of concentration and inspiration.
If there is time, I go to another location and start another one.
Is it Soup?
Afterwards I bring the work back inside to the studio and may touch it up. Often there is nothing to be done to salvage but it can be a learning experience. Other times there is a finished painting lurking in there.
When there is a group painting, there will likely be other artists that you can converse and consult with. Maybe we get together afterwards for a meal or to socialize.