Plein-Air Painting versus Studio-Studies

Excelsior Blue Gums. Watercolour, 270 x 380 mm.

Painting outdoors is always great  fun! It should never be viewed too seriously. It forces me to loosen up and break free from my usual painting processes. Usually, on these occasions,  the light changes rapidly or the rain threatens, the insects or the wind become tiresome, or there just isn’t the time to perfect a painting outside. So the trick is to make a start outside and when it becomes necessary to leave and return to the studio, take photos and then finish it off in the more comfortable surroundings of the studio.  Some pictures aren’t meant to be anything other than enjoyable outdoor recreation, or an exercises in preparation for studio compositions of the same subject. The atmosphere and surroundings have a unique influence on how we interpret what we see. Painting plein-air is undoubtedly a very valuable and pleasurable pursuit !

Fountain Poplar Grove. watercolour. 380 x 270 mm









View with Fountain Poplar. watercolour. 380 x 270 mm.




John & Sue Plein-air painting. April 2010. The Fountain, Silvermere.

John and Sue wanted to go and paint out in the veld on two recent visits to Silvermere, so we had some enjoyable outdoor painting excursions. Some were finished on site and others in the studio. On one occasion when it was cold and windy outdoors, we sat in the studio and chose a photo taken recently in the vicinity of the farmyard. There is no need to give up just because the weather is bad. This set of colour sketches resulted from those two visits. The one with the gate was painted entirely indoors, on a windy afternoon.

Farm Workshop. Pen and Watercolour. 270 x 380 mm

(Dictionary ) plein-air (plān-âr’, Fr. plĕn-ĕr’) [Fr.,=open-air], term used for paintings or drawings made directly from nature and infused with a feeling of the open air. Painting outdoors is a relatively recent practice; the impressionists and the painters of the Barbizon school made plein-air painting an important dimension of their landscape work.

Dry Land Gate. Watercolour. 250 x 350 mm.

Here are some descriptive quotes that say far more than I can about the pleasures of painting en plein air:

I don’t like most of what I paint outdoors, but the process is the point; and I know it will make me a better painter. (Gaye Adams)

Plein-air painting is the perfect forum for learning how to use watercolor, as it is observation-driven. Placing technique secondary to observation is the essence of working the the field. (Ken Auster)

Plein air painting is my response to the moment – the reflected light in the water or the mood created by the shadows. (Keith Bond)

You can be bashed around in the bush. If your hands freeze, your face burns, or the mozzies suck your blood, so much the better. (Lorne Bouchard)

To steep oneself in the sky. To capture the tenderness of the clouds. To let the cloud masses float in the background, far off in the gray mist, and then make the blue blaze forth. (Eugene Boudin)

Notes from the field become part of an ongoing experience where each painting contributes in some way to the next. (Gavin Brooks)

Working outdoors or from life puts you in direct contact with the life force, not just the light and the landscape, but also the vitality of the world around you. (George Carlson)

All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside. (Paul Cezanne)

I strive to capture the moment, that fleeting light or atmospheric effect, tackled with a sense of urgency and an awareness that the prevailing conditions are transient and will not be precisely repeated. (Trevor Chamberlain)

Organizing the shapes, colors, patterns and values as they relate to the rest of the landscape, and which shift in the changing light, presents problems as well as many opportunities. (Scott L. Christensen)

It’s all that reality – you are in the world that you’re painting. The light changes, the wind blows, things are constantly moving. You are forced to paint quickly and spontaneously. (Sherrill Cooper)

Plein air paintings are a bit like short poems. These poems are not deep and heavy but more light and breezy. A good poet might write a bunch of them and throw away more than a few. A plein air painting is rough and reveals a good deal more about the artist than a studio job. (Paul deMarrais)

The view is loaded with Light, Light, Light, ever changing and so wonderful in its myriad colors. (Candace Faber)

I’m constantly painting the landscape in my head as I drive along, and when I see something that refuses to give way to the next scene, I stop the car and turn around. (Gay Falkenberry)

Everything outside is exciting to look at. There are suddenly hundreds of paintings all around me. (Irwin Greenberg)

Nothing compares to judging spots of color next to each other en plein air. (Jeff Mahorney)

There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. (Edouard Manet)

As a plein air artist, you are challenged to stretch yourself, as you are constantly exposed – by design or by accident – to experiences and scenes you might never have predicted or planned. (Zenaida Mott)

When you’re an artist – especially a plein air artist, where you’re working outside – you see the best of life all the time. (Tom Nichols)

God’s world is very beautiful and aesthetically superior, so when we paint directly from live subjects, we learn colour, light and brevity from the most indisputable teacher. (Serguei Ouissik)

Working on-site is hard and fast. You have to work it out and get it done. It’s like a swordfight. On the other hand, studio work is quiet, contemplative and internal… (Grace Paleg)

Plein air painting renews my ‘art spirit’ and inspires more creativity in the studio. (Bonnie Paruch)

There is no other resource so plentiful, ever-changing, and full of information than nature around us. Get ready to dive in with both feet and don’t forget to bring your sense of humour. (Lori Putnam)

To capture mood, light and the gentle breeze, try painting en plein air. (Heidi Smith)

The sun on rich objects and mystery in shadows, the feel of the temperature and atmosphere on my skin – these are the foundations of my compulsion to paint. (Kathryn Stats)

Monet, Manet, Sisley, Renoir, Van Gogh and others went outside to paint for one simple reason – it looks different outside. (Mike Svob)

There’s nothing like leaving your soul in a place and enjoying the beauty of plein air painting, battling the sun, insects and time. Always remember to keep your concentration! (Andries Veerman)

When you’re on the spot, you’re seeing the best values, the cleanest color and real edges. You’re also seeing objects in a wonderful light, and you’re much more apt to paint a clear, un-muddied picture. (Wayne E. Wolfe)

(Plein-air painting) You are seeing things…and your heart and mind are responding to it. An experience witnessed in paint. (LarrySeiler)

“We are all born original masterpieces and die cheap imitations because we limit ourselves in the areas of our aspirations.” –(Scott Christensen, quoting from his pastor.)

Plein air painting is not a spectator sport, and it’s not a team effort. It’s the discipline of discovering yourself as you try to unravel the magic. (Skip Whitcomb)


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