Monday, September 22, 2014

Plein Air Painting

"To look, to see, to understand, to capture - however imperfectly - is to be part of the land in a way like no other."
                                                                                                    ~ Jan Blencowe

Jeanne MacKenzie demonstrating how to paint en plein air.

I've just returned home from my annual trip to the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop in Dubois, Wyoming. To be surrounded by such beauty and to get to spend every day with so many other artists was fantastic as always. 

Three years ago I tried plein air (from the French, meaning "open air") painting with the group, but my acrylic paints dried out the second I put them on the palette. This year I decided to try plein air painting again, since I now paint in oils. I was much more successful this time around! 

Jeanne Mackenzie led the plein air instruction at the workshop and spent a whole day walking us beginners through the process. One of the exercises she had us do was to work from photographs while outside. This allowed us to get a feel for the equipment and how the paint reacted to the elements without having to also worry about distractions like the constantly changing light. I also got some practice in typical plein air activities such as rescuing paintings after they get blown over, and picking insects and bits of plant matter from the paint.

First attempt from a photo

Second attempt from a photo

(I don't know who took the photos I worked from, so I'm sorry I can't give proper credit)

My first attempt in the field.

The next day we traveled about 10 miles out of town and Jeanne let us loose in the field - literally. There were cows grazing nearby to add to the ambiance. It was a beautiful sunny day with some fall color in the grasses and the distant trees. The wind was even kind enough to be gentle. I was thrilled with my first attempt at plein air painting - it actually looks like something!

My second attempt in the field.

The clouds had taken over on the day we headed up into the mountains. I found a lovely scene of a mountain stream flowing below some craggy peaks. I was surprised to see the painting come out so dull because in reality the colors around me were quite bright. I was so excited by the experience that I sometimes forgot to clean off my brushes; that may have contributed to the dull colors. I learned that many plein air painters have two of each kind of brush - one for light colors and one for dark colors - to minimize this problem. I also learned that I need a lot more practice with painting water!

Aspen showing off.

As we drove back to the conference center for lunch, the sun finally decided to come out. It lit up a stunning grove of aspen in peak fall color. There was even a convenient turn-out on the highway so we could stop and take pictures, but we didn't have time to get out our paints. Two days later I passed this same spot on my way home and was surprised to see the color in the leaves completely changed to a dull yellowish-brown. Fall is very short in the mountains!

I hope to do more plein air painting here at home as I really enjoyed the experience. I found it very satisfying to paint from a scene right in front of me rather than working from a photograph. My love affair with oil paints is also still red hot and I'm anxious to paint with them any chance I get. Plein air gives me a good excuse!


Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) said...

What a wonderful experience! Never occurred to me to paint from photos outside, but I can totally see how it would help when you're just starting. Love both paintings from life, especially the first. Thanks for sharing the details of your trip!

Anonymous said...

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You can contact me at jeames(at)Plymouth(dot)edu