Stay focused in Plein-Air painting

Noonday LightThe sounds of spring are in the ears of every plein-air artist. The birds are chirping. The trees are beginning to bud. And, at least in the south, the bermuda grass is starting to turn green and wake up from dormancy. Like the grass, the excitement of plein-air painting is rising in the hearts of every artist who enjoys painting in the element. The exhilaration of catching the morning light or evening shadows; The mood of a colorful scene, and maybe a bit of history on the tip end of the artist’s brush is appealing. But remember to stay focused. If not, you may miss creating a lasting work of art for the ages. Several years ago, when I was painting in plein-air, I experienced a – plein-airjacking. I had just left a spot by the Great Lakes and was on my way to find a new location. I spotted a beautiful scene about 15 or 20 minutes from where I was painting. The scene was an artist’s dream! The sun was off in the distance – just above the waters horizon; a small bridge lay in the foreground while small white sail boats sprinkled across the lake behind it; a tree canopied the bridge with reverent glory as bystanders stood and walked beneath it. With easel, brushes, and paint in the car, I saw the light. I parked the car, set-up my easel and watercolor block, prepared my palette, and sketched an outline of the scene that captured my attention. But just when I dipped my brush into my jar of water to make my first stroke, a young boy, about 9 or 10 years old and his friend (a little girl the young boy said he was watching) road up on their bikes and asked – what was I about to paint? Of course, who can resist cute little kids, so I told him. I pointed to the completed sketch and the scene in front of my easel. I thought once he had this information they would continue on their bikes to some other destination that kids have in mind. But it appeared that I was it. He proceeded to ask if he could paint or if his friend could paint. He asked if he could have a piece of paper and a tube of paint. He asked if my daughter could paint. He asked if my daughter could recite her poetry. He asked where did I learn to paint. He asked if I could teach him right now. He asked what colors I was going to use. He pounded me with questions for about an hour and 30 minutes. Then, a truck pulls up and a young lady steps out about 13 years old with her own arsenal of heart felt query which lasted another 30 minutes or so. I was done. Although I tried not to be rude by ignoring the trio, the picture perfect scene had disappeared into the faint light of the evening. I had been plein-airjacked. The beautiful scene in front of me was now gone. The sun had lowered, the colors faded, the sailboats had come in, and I was without a painting. Hopefully, I left some lasting impression on the three inquisitive art lovers. As spring draws closer, and we stand at the door with easel and brush in hand as pleinairists – stay FOCUSED in plein-air painting.

27 thoughts on “Stay focused in Plein-Air painting

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    • The more I learn about shapes, by means of critical observation, the more enjoyable painting becomes. I wonder why, through 7 years of art education at the university, no one ever pushed me to see shapes. Yet the key to painting is an intense scrutiny of shapes-the configuration, the values and the color variations and especially the edges between adjacent shapes. Closely observing these characteristics of shape has taught me more about painting than any class I ever took.

      • You are absolutely correct! The many shapes that form a painting, regardless of how the artist elects to interpret them are core elements to a composition. It is amazing that you can spend so much time in higher education and have something so relative and in my mind important unaccounted for. Training the eye to identify this should be a priority, but I think this is the challenge we face in every area of education. The ability to closely observe what is truly in front of us.

  2. My personal opinion is that bedrooms, bathrooms, office, dens and basements can all be painted different colors since they usually all have different themes anyways. But if rooms don’t have defined separate spaces (my kitchen, eat in area, family room and foyer has an open floor plan), then paint it all the same color. But it doesn’t have to be neutral. For example in my house:Office: Greyish purple1/2 bath: YellowMaster bedroom: Sage greenMaster bathroom: Sage green brown2nd bedroom: Purple (daughter)3rd bedroom: Pink (daughter)4th bedroom: Blue (son)Kids bathroom: YellowKitchen/family room/foyer: Chocolate brown Taupe Living room/Dining room: Taupe

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