Friday, July 12, 2019

Plein Air - My Favorite Way to Paint

Three Florida Leaves
8"x10" watercolor on paper

Plein air painting, or painting out of doors from observation, is one of my favorite pastimes. I love being outside, I love the challenges; the moving sun, the rising and falling tide, and even the possibility that the subject might leave the scene, which happens a lot with boats! It’s more intense  than painting from a photo. Of course there are inconveniences, like bugs, and wind, and even rain, which will pretty well put an end to the session. I think I do my best work when I can observe the three dimensional scene and translate it into two dimensions on the spot.

Beaver Brook Marsh In Spring
8"x10" oil on canvas panel

Our plein air season is pretty short here in New England, and it’s fun to travel south in the winter and do some painting there.

Florida Fishing Boats
8"x10" oil on canvas panel

It’s commonly thought that plein air painting was started by the impressionists, and indeed, they did popularize it. John Constable is credited with beginning the movement with an exhibit of his paintings in France in 1824. It caught the eye of the painters who became known as the Barbizon school. Many years ago I saw an exhibit at the Tate Britain of Constable's paintings. There were two of each painting, an outdoor study, and a studio version, both were the same size and quite large. To my 21st century eyes, the field studies were much more fresh and appealing. But that was not the case for the British art crowd of the time, and the field studies were just that, studies for the studio paintings. I was totally inspired by the exhibit! 

Distant Pink
6"x6" oil on canvas panel

The invention of the camera pushed outdoor painting to the back of the room for a while, making it easy for artists to paint landscapes from photos in their studios. Fortunately plein air painting has had a revival in recent years, and paintouts and festivals that specialize in plein air painting are summer events in many states. You may well have seen painters at work out of doors in Maine’s vacation meccas.