Painting outdoors “en plein air” is a commitment. You pack all of your art gear and head for the hills come good weather or bad. Hopefully you have narrowed down your gear to the bare minimum of what you need, which is somewhat of a work in progress, depending on the location.
With familiar distractions gone, there’s no turning back. Seriously, once you are out in the open air you begin to come alive and personally connected to what’s going on around you, every sense awakened. I was taught to retain the essence of the subject and stay in touch with what captivated me to begin with. Linger over your subject, walk around it, take it in … what’s the emotional thing going on here?
“Spring Rains – Deep Bay BC CANADA” by Peggy Burkosky
With a limited palette, the bare minimum of paint brushes under an umbrella or the tailgate of your vehicle you can paint quite happily, rain or shine.
“Weather Change – Whiskey Dock Ucluelet BC Canada” by Peggy Burkosky
This painting was done in 2 days with a true physical workout, dodging raindrops by hiding under the tailgate of my van and running into sheltered campsites to let the washes dry. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as this, but I survived. Here I’ve included the most typical of considerations on “What to Bring” in an outdoor painting session – this is an upcoming paint-out at The Old School House Arts Centre 25th Anniversary Grand Prix – more news to come on this event.
It is easy to go down rabbit trails and forget the initial reason why you felt drawn to the lighting and placement of shapes in a subject. En plein air painting gives you way more sensory information than a camera. You can assess the light and dark area temperatures which are simply lost in a camera. When you view from the ability of the human eye, flitting and darting here and there, focusing and refocusing, you can observe things “real-time” whereas a camera freezes everything, taking it all in. This can create confusion as to what is the main subject and reason why you are drawn to recreate the scene.
So why all this work? Hands down, the payoffs are irreplaceable. Even if you mostly work in-studio, you will notice that the skills that you’ve developed in live sessions will transfer over to your work. I used to read about this and agree with head knowledge, but now it’s becoming heart.
In a typical 2 to 3 hour outdoor session you will paint:
– In a brief, descriptive way as the light chases you or you chase the light!
– “Less is more” – you will be forced to paint with less detail
– Retain the “essence” of the subject
– Have a better observation of colour
So if you’re getting a little serious about getting outdoors to paint, I can tell you the main what NOT to do’s:
– Forget water (drinking and cleanup) and paper towels
– Use cheap tripods
– Repeat: use cheap tripods (do you really need one? sometimes not)