Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Magic of Plein Air Painting

"Plein air" painting is just a fancy way of saying "painting outside" or painting in "plain air."  Plein air painting can be a lot of fun but it also has many challenges. 

One of the biggest challenges is that the lighting conditions change quickly.  At the start of your painting experience, the sun might be directly overhead and a tree has a shadow directly underneath.  Within an hour, the sun has moved and the shadows move accordingly.  Most plein air artists work relatively small so they can quickly capture the essence of the scene and avoid the problem of "chasing shadows."

Other plein air painting challenges are environmental conditions.  Wind, rain, bugs, heat, and cold can add complexity to the painting experience.  I've not only been bitten by bugs but also had bugs fly onto my canvas and get stuck in the paint.  Windy conditions can be especially challenging as I've had my easel blown over by a strong gust of wind.  An umbrella or finding shade can be crucial in the heat of summer.  And, of course, cold weather painting requires hat, gloves and a warm clothing.

With all these challenges, why leave the comfort of your climate-controlled studio to paint outside?  There are many reasons why plein air painting can be a  magical experience.  

When traveling, have you ever taken a photo of a beautiful vista and somehow when you get home, you look at the photo and it looks dull and ordinary?  As an artist, you pick a location because something about it inspires you.  Being on location you get an emotional response that comes through in your painting.  Below is a photo of sand dunes on Plum Island and the painting that I created called "Dunes in Purple."  The photo looks pretty bland and yet my painting is filled with color -- colors that can't always be captured by a photo.

Painting is a very solitary activity so it is fun to get outside.  I've met some really nice folks while plein air painting.  Below is a photo of a hot dog vendor that I met a couple years ago.  I set up my easel a short distance away from her cart and happily painted.  Eventually, she got curious and headed over to see what I was doing.  We ended up chatting and she was tickled that I had chosen her as my subject. 


Plein air painting is challenging for sure, but it is worth the extra work and hassle and is an important part of my journey as an artist.