Plein Air – Redux

Last week I posted about painting “en plein air”, in anticipation of this weekend’s Jericho Plein Air Festival. I returned to the same spot as last weekend. The idea was to see how I do painting the same scene – learning from the first effort and trying to improve.

The festival brought in 75 artists, watercolorists, oil painters, and those using acrylics like me. After an early morning gathering for food and coffee and a group meeting we all headed off to our preferred spots. There were a couple dozen options for painting and only 3 of us ended up at the Beaver Pond in the morning to paint. The weather was beautiful, but there was no shade so by late morning it was pretty hot in the sun. At the end of the day, returning to the gallery to frame our work, we had Ben & Jerry’s ice cream waiting, the perfect ending to a hot day.

I spent a couple hours painting the same scene I painted last week. And overall I feel like I did make a number of improvements, and this painting is much stronger than my first attempt.  The great thing about this festival is each person gets to hang one painting from the day at the Gruppe Gallery in Jericho. Its a nice touch to the event being able to go see everyone’s work and for others, and the public, to see yours.

Below is the painting I did today. One of 2 paintings actually, I did another small painting in the afternoon as well but it was a quick small painting.

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Taking the “en plein air” plunge

I’ve done it. I’ve taken to painting outdoors, with all its pitfalls and rewards. So I thought I’d share my experience as it evolves.

Painting “en plien air” (or “in the open air”) has a long history, most notably being the method preferred by the impressionists. It has its challenges and its rewards. This summer I have taken the “plien air” plunge and decided to give this method of painting a run. Early results are not so good, but I’m determined to stick with it and see where it takes me.

A little history. Prior to the mid-19th century it was difficult to paint out of doors with all the equipment necessary, but the introduction of paint in tubes and the box easel (portable) made it much easier to carry paint and equipment with you outside to paint on-site. This dovetailed nicely with the rise of impressionists like Monet, Pissaro and Renoir who believed in capturing real-life and “painting the light” outdoors. I won’t bore you with more history other than to say painting “en plein air” became very important to impressionist painting and changed how the world looked at art.

For me, the attraction of painting outdoors is that you truly can not capture a scene with a camera or memory, or the light and the colors, as well as when you are standing there at your easel looking at your subject. Being outdoors by itself is great, most of the time. And there is something romantic about painting a picture all in one session right there on the spot. Its not necessary to complete a painting in one session, Monet famously would take several canvases with him and paint on each for only a few minutes at the same time of day, returning each day so as to capture that exact light and time of day. But it is common practice for many to paint in a single session. And there are plenty of very accomplished and successful artists who will only paint this way, outdoors, rain, shine, summer or winter.

So I have painted this way now a total of 5 times. The results of which are 5 paintings that are not worth displaying. But I’ll share this last effort and what I have been learning for a couple of reasons. One, its worth showing and talking about the challenges as a learning tool. Two, it will be good to gauge my progress as I paint outdoors more and more. And three, since I will be participating in two “plein air” festivals in the coming weeks, and taking a weekend workshop in August which will be mostly outdoor painting, its good to think about the experience so far and plan for what I need to improve on.

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