I am sharing with you this week some insights about "plein air" painting (French for "open air"). I am pretty new to the practice, I started back in 2014. The time commitment makes it a challenge to do consistently, but have found it to be completely wonderful when able. If I could, I would paint everything from life, but that's not always reasonable with the every day demands on time and energy. This past weekend I had the chance to escape (sans baby) to Epworth By The Sea* while my husband was at a conference and not even the rain and gnats could keep me from smiling the entire day. I was able to finish a few pieces in between rain showers.
1. En "Plein Air" only means in "open air." It's the act of painting outdoors. That's it! But in more detail, it means getting your behind out of the studio, finding locations of interest, schlepping gear across terrain, exposing oneself (and the gear) to all the conditions of nature, interacting with curious passersby, and most importantly, laying paint on the canvas quickly and accurately as to keep up with the light and atmospheric changes. There is debate about a painting being completed outdoors "counting." I think that's just being picky, and I'm pretty sure many artists will add touch ups in the studio after the fact. Often times outdoor paintings are also used as "notes" for larger, slower, studio paintings.
2. It's a very old practice, but really took off during the 19th Century, both in Europe and the United States. One of my favorite series of plein air work is Claude Monet's Haystacks. He spent a year painting the same field of haystacks, every painting different because of the changes in atmosphere and light as the days and seasons passed. It epitomizes what plein air painting should be. (And he finished most of them in studio... if Monet can, then so can we :))
3. It's [usually**] "alla prima." All Prima simply means "wet into wet," which in oil painting means it is done in one sitting, without letting subsequent layers dry in between. This is a different style of painting which requires it's own level of appreciation. Painting in layers is a beautiful way to capture depth in a painting and has been the traditional practice for centuries. When an artist paints "alla prima," he or she must make decisions slightly differently, considering any underpainting will likely come through and there will be only a single layer of wet paint. Alla prima paintings do have a different look to them than layered oil paintings, and I think both are beautiful.
4. In my opinion, we are enjoying a particularly marvelous "rennaissance" of plein air art RIGHT NOW in America. There are many incredible living artists blowing my mind (and I love that modern technology allows us to follow their careers and lives real time, despite being thousands of miles away). A great way to peruse them is to search Plein Air Painting associations. A few of them are: Plein Air Painters of America, California Plein Air Painters (there does seem to be one for almost every state), and Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters. Honestly, if there is a particular landscape you are fond of, google the region with "plein air painters" after, and there is a high likelihood there is an organization in that area. It's a great way to find regional art.
5. (If you are in Jacksonville, FL) We have local plein air artists as well! In Jacksonville, the association is called First Coast Plein Air Painters, and they are always doing a lot of neat things right here in the Bold City. Many of the artists sell work on their individual websites, some right off the easel, but often times there are "wet paint" sales in conjunction with group paint outs. (There is one March 24-25, 2018 at the Jacksonville Arboretum).
6. French easels and box easels enabled outdoor painting to become a much more popular thing. Now, there are many great different options for gear, enabling even young artists like me to enjoy a wealth of tools to explore. I use Art Box and Panel, and love it. I have a bag always packed with paints and solvents, panels (these are pretty expensive but WORTH IT), a wet panel carrier, an umbrella (to provide consistent shade on my easel as well as rain, as was the case this weekend), and essentials such as rags, bug spray, a hat, and sunscreen.
I hope when you look at art, you begin to notice how much plein air art is growing in the market today. It's beautiful, fleeting, spontaneous, and unpredictable, and a genre I hope you can appreciate. Please hit "reply" or comment below with any of your favorite artists!
Until next time!
*(On a personal note, when my now-husband first asked me out, he had just been at Epworth for a retreat, and came to visit me after it was done. That was the last time he was there, and I had never been before. It was sweet to see where he built up the nerve to finally make that move, now that we have been married for almost 7 years. He also showed up that day in Fourth of July women's thrift store clothing, I suppose the theme of the final events. It was quite the first impression to my parents).
** Many of "Haystacks" were not "wet into wet." but that's why I said plein air is "usually" alla prima :). It doesn't have to be! It just often times is.