Friday, April 14, 2006
My Kind of Plein Aire
Purple Serenity, 2006, Oil on Panel, 8x10
I have always liked plein air paintings. Not painting them though. I am way too princessy to be able to paint outside. The bugs, the sun, the snakes and other wildlife, all of the work to set up and then clean up after, ugh, not for me. And I hate the gawkers. When I was a student in Philadelphia, we often had to go outside and paint the street scenes. We may as well put a sign up asking all creepy men to please approach us and ask for sex. In Utah the landscape was beautiful but I never quite connected with it. I did take a few pastel workshops and did a few plein air landscapes, but they were unremarkable in every way. So when we moved to NY the landscape spoke to me and I decided to paint it. But on my terms. I didn't want to worry about the details. I wanted to make changes in composition. I wanted make things up. So now I take pictures of everything. Roads, hills, trees, fields, barns, houses, street scenes, flowers, everything I can see. The kids roll their eyes whenever I pull over to the side of the road to get a good shot. Crazy mom, they say. I take photographs in every season at every time of the day, in all kinds of weather (uh, you don't have to point out how close I am to plein air painting I am here). I have boxes and boxes of photos that I use for reference. At first I was a bit of a slave to the photo, but I soon tired of that and decided to let loose. I use photos as a baseline but often change the composition and follow my own vision regarding color, light, and mood. I am always flattered when people ask if I work on site, because I think my paintings tend to look like some wacked out, LSD-induced version of nature when displayed next to a real plein air painting. However, I do love and admire real plein air work and Doug and I have collected a number of pieces over the years.
I have recently been enjoying this blog by artist Rebecca Grantham. She does energetic, exciting plein air paintings. Her brushwork (and palette knife work) is impressive and I love how she captures the light and mood of a tangled wooded scene. I am envious of her trees. I always think I am going to paint the branches but usually end up with my usual solid mass of trees. She is also a busy mother of five kids, which I can relate to obviously, although five must be more hectic than four, right?
I especially enjoy reading Rebecca's blog while at my desk, in my 68º house, sitting in my comfy suede chair, a fat and lazy domesticated cat in my lap, and with no insects in my hair. I'm pretty much an indoor girl. So sue me.
Posted by Tracy Helgeson at 7:54 PM
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My feelings echo your sentiments. A friend of mine is a plein aire painter and enjoys it immensely. Myself, I work in fits and starts. I want to be able to stop and have coffee. Lugging painting gear on a cross country hike is not my idea of fun. It is interesting to note that Degas disliked working plein aire and much preferred the comfort of his studio. He also worked from photos. As for me, I carry my digital camera with me and photograph interesting scenes. I later import them to my computer and run them through various programs to manipulate both color and image and use that as my starting point.
Hi Ed, Thanks for visiting the blog and I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who hates to lug art supplies through the fields and woods. Thanks for reminding me about Degas and that he preferred the studio, I had forgotten about that.
I am also a studio person but I have really learned to enjoy nature and hikeing. I used to hate it until Annie Dillard showed me how to enjoy nature. I really like the new painting, it looks almost completely abstract.
Hey, Aaron, Nice to hear from another fellow studio type. Who is Annie Dillard? Friend, writer, TV personality? Thanks for the compliment about the painting. I have been pushing the abstract thing a bit more lately.
I just found your blog the other day, and I am in awe of your prolific (ness?).
I laughed when I read your comments about plein aire painting, I dislike it for most of the same reasons.
Being outside is nice, but it's the memories and images I keep in my head that end up on the canvas.
Thanks Melissa, glad you are enjoying the blog. And I am glad to know that I am not alone in preferring not to work outside. Who knew there were so many closeted anti-plein air types??!!
Really engaging Blog, Tracy, I will enjoy reading it from now on.
I'm a dedicated out-in-the-snow-and-bugs kind of plein aire painter. The very, very few paintings I've done from photos have simply been disappointments. Personally, I need the pressure of painting from life to do satisfactory work. The one concession I do sometimes make to comfort and laziness is painting in my car. This solves a number of problems (like curious people and painting in the rain), and setup is a bit easier as well. And since my car is a 7 year old Jeep that I plan to drive until the wheels fall off, who cares if it gets a little mucked up?
Hi Jeff, I respect your diligence in working outdoors. Everyone has to do what works for them, or like me, force what I don't want to do into something that works. ha. The one area I need to work from life is the unclothed model. Somehow I don't have the same ability to "make up" or change things when it comes to figurative work. Thanks for visiting!
I also love to read Rebecca's blog - and through it have found yours! And I too am 'too princessy' (just love that description!) for plein-air working!
I'm very like Ed now that I have a digital ... what a godsend! I hope to get more 'abstraction' into my work in time.
Love this painting of yours in particular ... really lovely.
Lesly, What a coincidence! I was literally looking at your blog (through William Wray's) when your comment came in. Thanks for the compliment and nice to find another soul with a digital camera!
I enjoy both plein air and studio painting of landscapes. I see no reason that both cannot be enjoyed. My stido work helps me with technique and my plein air work improves my color and light observations.
I agree with you Linda, certainly both methods can compliment each other, and it sounds as if it really works for you.
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