Considering how many people paint in some form or another, it is surprising to me that so few spend anytime painting outside. Actually, I understand it completely. I fought it for many years before I finally gave in and tried it. The thought of bringing a make shift painting studio on the road, setting up outside, dealing with weather, animals, bugs and countless other things is enough to keep anyone inside.
If that is the case, then they made the same fatal mistake I did. I found out painting outside or “En Plein Air” is the basic foundation of art. Think about it. Nature in and of itself is art. That’s why we paint it. We try to duplicate what nature has already accomplished. When you paint outside and you deal with the distractions and obstacles, it forces you to concentrate on the basics. Basic shapes, basic colors, basic values and basic compositions. When you break everything down to its simplest for, you realize that the only thing left is pure art.
When you look at a Plein air painting, you can tell it was not completed in a safe studio environment. The art is rough, spontaneous and at times, has the look of a composition awaiting completion. I have learned though, even though the art looks rough, it is the purest for of spontaneous expression there is in art. The beauty lies within its simplistic and rough brush strokes fighting the light as the illuminating sun relentlessly moves with no regards to your creation what so ever.
Since I began painting en Plein air, I have a new found respect for those who have been braving the elements all along. Most of the inspiration for van Gogh was from his obsession of painting out doors. He was not the first to paint out side, but he did take it to a whole new level.
When first starting en Plein air, the aspiring out door artist need not worry themselves with expensive, heavy and cumbersome equipment. A simple sketch book and pencil is a perfect start. As you progress, you can get into watercolor half pans and a watercolor sketch book. I am an oil painter that loves watercolor sketching. Again, freedom and spontaneous art is what watercolors were made for.
This year was my 20th wedding anniversary. My sweet wife bought me something on my wish list I have been wanting for many years. A New Wave Pochade Box. Hand made by two friends in New York, this little gem allows complete portability when oil painting en Plein air. It is my favorite Plein air set up. I also have a very oil, but still very functional half box French easel. This gem allows me to paint larger sizes then the New Wave one. So, I use both. I keep them in the back of my Subaru Outback, so, if I see something on my way home from work, or just going somewhere on the weekend with my wife, I am prepared.
Painting en plein air is a stand alone art to me. Some people use Plein air in place of taking photographs for reference material. I use it as their own original artworks, but I also use plein air as a learning tool. Since we are at the mercy of the elements and countless other distractions, it forces us to make quick, decisive brush stroke and bold color choices. It does not allow us to over think anything, which is why I call it the ultimate spontaneous art form.
Start out small with a sketch book and a pencil and see what you think. There is really something special about creating art outside. I just wish I wasn’t so stubborn in my early stages in my art career. If I could, I would writ a note to my 25 year old self. It would say something like this. “Self, stop being stupid, get outside and paint”
Have a great day everyone