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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Plein Air Tip no. 1: What to do When Overwhelmed by the Landscape

'Poppies in Iceland 2'            5x7           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
I was ready for it. I packed my supplies and chose my pastels carefully. I had practiced with my setup and confidently opened my paint box and attached my paper. I was ready. Then it hit me.  Iceland was overwhelming. I stood before the perfect painting scene. It had it all....water, rocky cliffs with stark houses lit by the sun, a rolling flower filled meadow leading to the sea and a gorgeous sky.  How was I to choose what to paint in the face of a landscape painter's dream? Plein air painting can be a challenge!

What is a plein air painter to do? Sometimes we just get so overwhelmed that we freeze....and then nothing works. Or we get so excited that we forget the basics...and nothing works. I have some advice.

'Poppies in Iceland'          5x7         pastel           ©Karen Margulis
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  • First, take a deep breath and relax. It is important that you remember why you are painting. You don't want to be so tense that you forget to enjoy the scene or the moment! 
  • Next, don't be so quick to get started. Take a few minutes to shoot some photos and walk around. See what really catches your interest. Then set up. 
  • Now go ahead and paint but allow yourself to paint a dud for your first painting. Remind yourself that you don't have to only paint one perfect painting. You can paint more than one so it is OK if the first one doesn't work. You are getting warmed up.  I usually choose the grand view for my first painting.  When I am overwhelmed I want to paint it all....in one painting. So I try. It usually is a dud! But that is OK. Now I am relaxing and ready.
  • When you don't know what to paint because you are overwhelmed and the choices are too many...try to focus on just one thing. Maybe it is the sky that interests you...minimize the land then. Maybe the light on the building catches your interest...paint just the building. Ask yourself WHY and then focus on that one thing. Or, paint what you know. Paint what you are comfortable with before trying new things. And finally remember that the more you work on smaller motifs the more confident you will feel. Don't try to put it all in one painting!
For me, I was drawn to my favorite thing to paint....flowers in the landscape. I was drawn to the Icelandic Poppies. At first I resisted painting them. After all I could paint these anywhere. Shouldn't I be painting the cliff and the water? I wanted to paint the poppies so I did and it felt good. (I did paint the rest of the scene but painting what I know helped me to warm up!

Be sure to visit my blog on Monday when I start my Iceland trip report Iceland: Through the Eye's of an Artist.


Anonymous said...

Excellent tips. I've only painted plein air once but all those overwhelming thoughts were there. Thanks so much for the great tips and for your beautiful adventure to Iceland through pictures for us all!

Cristiane Marino said...

HI Karen,

I’ve been following your work and blog for some time.
I love your work and I felt identified with your story, because I spent many years working as a medical doctor and taking care of my family, and art was something that I used to do during vacation or some rare spare time.
I’m still working a lot, but I decided to make art part of my daily life. It really feeds my soul.
I hope some day I can paint so beautifully as you do.
I’m having such a great time following the news about your trip to Iceland, what an amazing place!
I live in Brazil, it is a little bit distant, but who knows? Maybe some day I can attend a workshop with you.
I love your art tips!
Have a very nice weekend.

Anna Lisa Leal said...

Hallelujah! This is exactly what I needed to read since I had that kind of day today. My "dud" was so distasteful, I washed it off with the pond water where I was sitting. Thank you Karen, it is so validating to know this happens to others too.

mi fasola said...

I don't always prefer plein air, but what matters is having the right tools which makes going out easier when you are prepared. I try not to take in too much as you suggest, but I don't dislike plein air as much as I used to.

Maria Stoller said...

This happens to me often. Thanks for the great tips!

robertsloan2art said...

I love that second one with the yellow poppies, it's wonderful! Great tips for plein air. Sometimes if I go out, the whole scene is overwhelming but smaller sketches of different elements are more useful later. And photos, lots of those.

Sherry Schmidt said...

Thanks Karen! Great tips to keep in mind. Beautiful results!