“En plein air”
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There is nothing like painting outdoors, standing in front of an easel, with loaded brush in hand. Suddenly the environment comes alive as the sun beats down, the wind blows, birds sing their songs, and bugs fly around you looking for a landing spot. It can be an exhilarating experience if you are well prepared. It can be really uncomfortable if you aren’t.
Some artists (like myself) believe working “en Plein Air” is an essential part of growing as an artist. Instead of just working from photographs (which many artist do), painting “en Plein Air” gives you the opportunity to work in a three-dimensional world, where you are using your 5 senses in order to create. You not only SEE the scenery, you smell it, feel it, and hear it. Sometimes you can even taste it! Because all senses are alerted, the finished artwork has a different feel to it. It can be more personal, more vibrant, and more connective. It can even make the viewer feel like they are a part of the scene.
Before the photograph, artists would carry sketch books outdoors and then bring their sketches indoors to use as reference for their paintings. Finished work was completed in the studio. Also, because of the way early paint was made, it was very difficult to paint outside. There were no tubes of paint for artists to purchase. Instead artists ground up pigments and created their paint in their studio. With the creation of factories cans, bags, and finally plastics were developed. Eventually paint was put in more portable containers. This gave the artist an opportunity to go outdoors—in the “open air” and paint their subject matter right on location.
Though it is one of those delicacies of an artful life, painting “en plein Air” is not for everyone. Besides the challenges of just being outdoors, the artist needs to consider what part of the scene will fit in their painting. The artist needs to find a safe, preferably shady place, to camp out for a while. They need to quickly plan their composition, and understand the sunlight as it moves across the canvas quickly. They need to figure their “set-up” — do they need to bring an easel? A painting table? A chair? An umbrella? And don’t forget the bug spray, and sunscreen!
As for me … these days I usually spend my days painting in the studio, but I still love painting “en Plein Air”. When I get the chance I head out-of-doors with my easel, paints, and sunhat. I’m out there with the bugs enjoying Mother Nature in all her glory. Come on out and join me!