Painting Outdoors, or en plein air, might be challenging at first, but once a working routine is established, it can become a passion all of its own and even a standard method of painting. Monet comes to mind painting large canvases by his backyard pond, which also suggests you do not have to go far to be inspired: a balcony or car with open windows can be a first step.
When working outdoors with acrylics or oils, the alla prima direct application of paint is usually the standard technique. However, certain considerations made ahead of time can be part of this practice, including drawings, value studies, notan structures and thumbnails with cropping options. Implementing fundamentals of painting such as colour theory, perspective and atmospheric depth offers endless possibilities of rendering a scene.
At the same time, plein air painting – frequently equated with studies – brings with it the freedom to be more explorative, playful, and innovative. The degree of abstraction one chooses for a scene often presents the most riveting aspect of a plein air and can help de- velop an artist’s personal style. For instance, an artist may use a strategic design to ab- stract, or a more intuitive response. Shapes can be altered and repeated or spaced dif- ferently, natural details may be portrayed flat- tened, have adapted colour or texture. The result is the artist’s personal response to the landscape at a given time. David Hockney’s playful landscapes are a good example.
For me, the landscape seems to play a visual song that I attempt to transpose into my own score with colourful brushwork. I may work the brush in high key staccato notes while using longer flowing motions for low key notes. I often intensify colours because they elude a strength demanding more emotional response. In other areas I may subdue a strong tone by muting or veiling it. This sometimes takes great effort. The more I study colours outdoors the more hues I see in them.
Plein air painting not only trains the eye, but also heightens our senses, including the awareness of things beyond ourselves, and allows the awe of creation and natural beauty to be experienced.
In addition, the great outdoors also has a say in the work we do. Not only does the light change dramatically but so does the temperature and the way the paint flows; shapes and shadows move, and all sorts of distractions occur, including mishaps, which inadvertently find their way into our paintings – such as a poor bug landing in thick paint. Nonetheless, sacrifices have to be made.
In the end, fresh air, packing light and practicing various skills is good for us. We become part of nature’s creative process by painting it and find an opportunity to put to work our heartfelt best effort – That’s the Passion of Plein Air!
Please see Jane’s Plein Air Video’s on Youtube: Jane_Appleby_Art.