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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why We Need to Paint en Plein Air

'The Spirit is Calling' 8x10 plein air pastel ©Karen Margulis
painting available for $150 click here

I have seen the light! Never has the benefits of painting outdoors been so clear to me. There are so many lessons I learned at the 1st Annual Plein Air Convention. It was inspiring, informative, motivating and just fun to be around so many people with the same passion for painting that I have. I will be sharing some of the wonderful things I learned over the next week but I would like to begin with the most important lesson. Painting en plein air really does help you see better.

The term "plein air" (derived from the French, "open air") is used to describe painting that is done outdoors, directly from nature. Plein air painters seek to capture the varied, shifting effects of light and atmosphere on the landscape.

I have always enjoyed painting outdoors but I just didn't make enough time to go out. I figured my photos would be good enough. But I know now that if I really want to become a better painter, I need to paint outdoors more often. Here is why:
'Pine Creek Canyon' 5x7 plein air pastel

Photo of Pine Creek Overlook, Red Rock Conservation Area

Have a look at the paintings above and the photo I took of the same location. The paintings were both painted en plein air. When I look at the photo I am amazed at the difference between the photo and the paintings . It doesn't even look like the same place. Look at the colors and the light I was able to see when I was painting. Look at the variety of greens I can see in the foreground. In the photo everything is dark. I could lighten the photo but I would never be able to restore the colors that my eyes actually saw in real life!

You don't need to be an accomplished painter to benefit from painting outdoors. You don't even need fancy equipment. Quick and simple sketches will work as well. I plan on working outdoors more often and I offer you this challenge...put together a small plein air kit that you can keep ready and commit to painting at least one study from life every week. More is better but start with a manageable goal. Have a look at my post on making a cigar pastel box. Here are some of the benefits you can expect:
  • You will see colors better including the subtle nuances that photos can't capture.
  • Your paintings will have a better sensation of light. You will be able to see into the shadows instead of making dark holes.
  • You will strengthen your powers of observation.
  • You will get to know the landscape better and bring a deeper understanding to your studio paintings.
  • Paintings plein air studies can also bring a freshness to your studio work.
  • You learn to work quickly and efficiently so that you can capture the fleeting light. This leads to stronger paintings with less fussiness.

Are you convinced? Let me know if you decide to take on my challenge and we can encourage one another!


robertsloan2art said...

Great coincidence! I love your plein air paintings and you're right, they're much better references than the photos.

The coincidence is that yesterday I wound up waiting 40 minutes for my ride back from my clinic appointment. The parking lot has some beautiful plantings around it and great trees so I did a small watercolor study of some favorite trees and snapped more photos.

Considering I go back to the clinic every week, if I sketch or paint those trees every time I might be able to develop a good painting with them. Thanks for the idea!

Karen said...

Excellent Robert! I would love to see what you come up with. What a great way to make good use of your waiting time!

Rita said...

Awesome paintings! (I recognized the location right away!) Wish I could have met you at the convention, but understandably, the views were rather distracting! lol.

Karen said...

Thanks Rita! I agree! I only met a fraction of the artists! Hopefully we'll meet next year!

Lee McVey said...

Good post, Karen. Every landscape painting student should read this!

Meredith Adler said...

Not to discount what you said in this post, because I agree with everything you said in this post...but I also think you, personally, have a knack for making something special out of a photograph. It's your way of interpreting. I have actually always been amazed at the results I have seen you achieve from a photo reference.