Let Mother Nature watch you work
One of the really great things about summer is finally being able to get out of the studio and do some painting outdoors.
Who wants to work inside on a beautiful summer day?
Plein-air painting makes us get out of the house and forces us to do a bit of walking, hiking and breathe in some fresh air.
The objective of painting in the field is to enjoy the experience of painting and to see and feel the world with visual acuteness.
This experience is different from working with photographs in the studio.
The studio is filled with comforts and time to pull the painting to completeness.
The wilderness is ruled by chaos and time limitations.
Plein-air painting is more about the activity of painting than the product of the actual experience.
Once you have found your inspiring location, whether it be the backyard, garden, street scene or wilderness spot, make yourself comfortable and really drink in the scene.
Make a visual meal out of the shapes, light, colour, movement, smells and sounds that are going on around you.
Listen to what your eyes are telling you and then allow your mind to form a composition.
This is when the paints come out.
The painting media is unimportant.
I prefer using watercolours and gauche when painting on location because they are non-toxic, easy to transport and set up and are quick to dry.
I generally make multiple paintings with a large stack of paper on my lap.
On occasion, I’ll go outside with my acrylics and bring along my field easel, stretched canvas, large case of paints, half a dozen brushes and large quantities of water.
I know other artists who embark on massive camping trips with their large canvases strapped onto their cars, multiple easels, buckets of oil paints, varnishes, thinners and turpentine, along with the regular array of brushes, rags and perhaps a canoe.
Of course, sometimes a pencil and a sketch pad will work just fine.
It’s up to the artist.
Plein air painting is about seeing.
Because the scene is kinetic in nature, artists must paint quickly.
The best place to start is blocking-in large areas, forming a composition and then finding the light, colour, line and tone.
Connecting with the scene is paramount; you are a part of it, therefore allow the brushstrokes to express emotion.
Let your inner self speak.
In the studio, I will hit a point in my painting where it feels finished.
With plein-air painting there is often no real finishing.
Sometimes the weather may change or the scene may change or you might run out of paint or time.
The best way to deal with this dilemma is not to be too worried about the idea of creating a finished a painting.
Instead, attach yourself to the process of painting and, when there is no more to say within that piece, it is done.
Some artists will take their plein-air paintings home and work on them some more in the studio; others will not touch them at all, claiming the need to keep the purity of the painting.
As for me, it doesn’t really matter what happens to the painting one way or another.
Sometimes they are good, sometimes they’re not.
The whole point of the process was getting out and having some fun.
— Karla Pearce
Karla Pearce is the owner of the Karla Pearce Art Gallery in downtown Kamloops. She has been teaching art for the last 15 years.