by Patricia Banks
Published in Island Arts Magazine - Summer 2015
Everyone can paint En Plein Air! Painting outdoors can be as easy as sitting in a summer garden or as challenging as scaling a mountain range in a remote arctic park in the winter. There are no limits. It really is all about the artist's own personal interests, choices, and abilities. So, the most important question is: what inspires you?
I had the privilege of meeting Stefan Baumann this April. He is an unassuming and generous man, whose PBS film series called " Painting America's National Parks - The Grand View," are a beautiful tribute to the breathtaking scenery of the parks and an inspiring class for Plein Air Painters. Stefan says: "Paint what you love...painting is communicating but make sure you have something to say." Very good advice! Inspiration and knowledge of a subject are vital. John D. Cogan adds to this by saying, "Remember that as an artist, you are telling a story. Think about why the story interests you, and concentrate on those aspects that will make it interesting for those who will look at your painting." With inspiration in hand, what tips and techniques are needed?
First, chose a medium that works for you: pencils, crayons, pen and ink, watercolours, acrylics, oils, or pastels, or whatever else you may wish to use. Keep materials to a minimum and lightweight enough to carry. For example, in oils, I limit my paints to a double primary system, (a warm and cool of each primary color - red, yellow, and blue), plus white. With practice, it is possible to mix most colors from these few, including excellent darks. Joseph Gyurcsak also advises to "Use a limited palette to create unity and harmony." It may take a few tries to reduce supplies and leave the rest in the studio. Set up your plein air painting supplies in your studio and do a trial run. Having only what you need when you are outdoors, will make the difference between a difficult or an enjoyable painting outing. Travel light!
Take five minutes and do a few quick thumbnail sketches of your composition including three values - light, medium, and dark. This will save time later and help make a successful painting. Work small to start, and focus on only one thing that has captured your attention. Kim Lordier's advice is to "Paint like it is just an exercise." Painting outdoors is a tremendous learning experience that sometimes results in a finished piece. For many artists, painting en plein air, is for gathering information in preparation for a larger or more detailed painting done in the studio. It is the opportunity to paint from life - the great outdoors, and to see nature as it really is.
Keep it simple! What inspires you and what you have to say as an artist, will determine what you do. In my opinion, creativity nourishes the soul, and as Ned Meuller says "Paint as much and as often as you can." It's good for you!