September 11, 2013

The Importance of Plein Air

"Summer Afternoon on Vargas Island, 9X12 oil

Why subject yourself to working in the field?  I gotta tell you, there have been outings when I have asked myself that question.

I have painted in rain storms, hail storms, wind storms, mosquito swarms.....I have painted on days where heat exhaustion seemed like a real possibility, and other days when my fingers got too numb to hold my brushes.  And then there have been those perfect days as well, temperatures pleasant, sun shining, no insects, picnic lunch packed. 

Plein air painting has become an important part of my life as an artist.  I find it to be an invaluable practice for a number of reasons:

1.  I know that painting from life is the number one skill building excercise that a painter can embark on.  A painter learns decisiveness, efficiency and focus.

2.  I know that my camera does not see everything my naked eye does - subtle color changes, darks in shadows, temperature changes in light, all these things are very imperfectly portrayed by my camera.

3.  The camera freezes a moment in time;  painting en plein air is painting in the present and ever changing moment.

4.  There are things I notice en plein air that I can implement in my painting - Things only observable by staying put in one spot for an hour or two - the gulls that come and go; how the water changes when a breeze rises.  How sparkles on the water dance and how quickly the tide can shift.

5.  It is a visual journal - when I look at a plein air piece I have done I am transported back to the place; the sounds, smells, temperature, and the company I was with.   It's a very rich experience.

6.  I love the experience of exploring - the pursuit of plein air painting takes me places that I may have never journeyed to otherwise.

When I first started painting outdoors I found the process both cumbersome and frustrating.  Sometimes it is still frustrating as conditions can change so rapidly that it is impossible to get a painting down.  These days I don't get frustrated as easily - I know that some paintings will be little gems and others will be wiped off before they are finished, and I'm ok with that.  It's the nature of plein air.

During this next week I am traveling to Whistler mountain with a group of painters from the Federation of Canadian Artists.....I have looked at the weather forecast and it is not promising.  But it does promise to be a great adventure.  I am packing my plein air kit today, and I am excited about spending a whole week in the field.  Bring it on!


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