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Monday, July 20, 2015

The Value of Plein Air Painting

'The Tide Comes Quickly'            8x10           plein air pastel        ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $125
I knew it already but a valuable lesson was reinforced. Painting outside from life...en plein air...is powerful. It hit me today as I looked through the many paintings I did on my month long trip. These little paintings are truly authentic. They are moments in time captured with passion. They will be even more important than photos to remind me of the places they represent.

I am taking time this week to look through my paintings and photos. I am  reviewing my trip at leisure. A question from a reader got me thinking about how valuable it is to take time to paint on location.  She asked "How do you know where each painting was done? Do you write on the back?"
Great question! I don't write on the back and that is a very good idea which I will now adopt.

But my answer to her was that I really didn't need to. I will remember. How?

'Visiting Normandy'      8x10     pastel      $125

Looking at a plein air painting is the perfect memory jogger. That is because so much of me goes into each little painting. When I paint on location I experience the place with all of my senses. Looking at a finished study, I am reminded of the weather, the sounds, the smells, the colors. These things are clues which allow me to remember the location.

on location in Normandy!

Why is plein air painting so valuable? It is because of the way they are done....with all senses engaged. You are able to capture the colors and the emotion you see and feel. These things always give you more information than a photo can capture. Having these studies will help me create more authentic studio work from my photos.

Have a look at the pictures in this post. The top painting is my plein air study from a beach in Normandy France. The second painting was done before my trip from a photo of the same beach found on Google maps.  The photos below are photos I took of the beach. Compare them. Notice the vibrancy of the sand color in the plein air painting. That is what I really saw or felt.  My camera didn't capture it. Taking time for plein air is worth the effort!



2 comments:

robertsloan2art said...

Thank you for a wonderful essay! You're so right. Photos just don't capture color. They can be a good starting point. I liked the second painting as well, you caught an interesting pattern in the sand and it has its own beauty. The plein air has a bright clear truth to it.

Your photos are great. There are some places I'll probably never get to visit in this life. Painting from Google Maps is its own great opportunity, especially for someone mostly shut in. Yet this reminds me I don't need to go far to find something worth painting.

I have only one small point to add. It doesn't matter if the plein air painting is a botch. There are beautiful places I visited decades ago that are a lot clearer in mind now because I tried to draw or paint them on the spot. I paid attention. I was trying to get it right - the memory floods back when I look at a sad little drawing and with it, what the subject really looked like. If I got the color wrong, I still remember what way. If I left out an important element in the scene for time, I still remember what that was.

I might do some of those paintings someday from memory. Plein air is the best thing I can think of to develop good observation and memory skills. It's like falling in love with the place and making it part of myself. Going back by Google Maps would still result in a better painting than a place I'd never been.

Heather HArman said...

The other side of the coin Karen - and I think you will agree is sketching. I have written articles on sketching using the same words and reasoning and emotions as you have. The difference is of course - when sketching you are still formulating your thoughts and plans for a future painting. Most of the really valuable work is done just there. When painting you are doing much the same. But I do just wish that artists who are on a course of development would understand that their sketchbook is their best friend for all the reasons you outline.

Plein air work is so valuable on so many levels, but it is hard to get that message over sometimes isn't it?