Monday, January 26, 2015

Plein Air vs. Studio Painting.

In the 1860's, the French Impressionists veered way off the course chosen by their traditional predecessors.  First, they rejected the salon-type of subject matter, i.e. mythological or religious subject matter, in favor of landscapes and the play of light and effects of color on the viewer.
Second, they moved their studios outdoors to experience the light firsthand rather than rely on memory or sketches.

I've been a plein air painter for most of my adult painting life.  I love being in the open air, with the sounds, quickly changing light and tides, and even the effect that the temperature and smells have on me while painting.  Looking long and carefully at the scene in front of you gives an intensity of experience that is less likely to occur when working from a photo or sketch. 

 However, in winter or when you have limited time which makes being outside difficult or impossible to paint on the spot, I need to keep my hand and brain engaged in the activity of painting, so I have resorted to using photos to generate a value sketch and then produce a finished painting.

In doing so, I've become less of a snob about having to be outdoors.  I find pleasure in working up a value sketch and painting from it.  I've also found that this gives me the time to think about how to proceed: which values to paint first, second, third, etc., as well as considering what colors to choose.  This is the case with the value sketch in the previous painting and the finished work above. I would like to have been on the spot in Austria where I snapped this scene from a tour bus in the early '70's, but I couldn't be.  But I painted anyway. 

I still recommend a value sketch when working indoors rather than working directly from a photo.  We tend to restrict ourselves and become too literal with only the frozen scene captured on film.  It gives you more leeway and familiarizes you with the scene without becoming a slave to the mentality that proclaims defensively, "Well, that's the way it was."

Happy painting on this day before the big blizzard of 2015!

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