Plein Air Art Strategies of the Impressionists
I used to think so romantically about Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and the other Impressionists. Not romantic like “Édouard Manet is so dreamy.” But romantic as in idealizing this particular group of painters — thinking they stepped outside of their studios and, snap, Impressionism just happened.
Veneration can sometimes blind the mind’s eye to all the toil and planning that goes behind an elegant masterpiece. The reality is that the Impressionists were plein air art strategists, thinkers and pioneering technicians when it came to the art they produced.
Sure, spontaneity was part of the plein air art experience that these 19th-century artists were drawn to. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t work at it.
Art Warm-ups Through Time
Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh are all known to have worked in a fairly traditional manner. They warmed up with small studies and drawing an underpainting on the surface of a large canvas to solve problems with composition and perspective.
The exercises that most plein air art workshop instructors emphasize today are the same ones the Impressionists performed in their own plein air painting situations.
Monet and others also took advantage of advancements that came along in their day and age, just as many of us do with any new painting techniques or innovations. Tube colors that traveled well and contained vibrant pigments made it possible for them to capture a whole world of colors.
They were also riding a wave of new color theory, including innovative ideas about complementary colors and broken color, or how putting two strokes of color side by side creates the illusion of a third color.
These ideas haven’t been around forever, and to the Impressionists they were revolutionary.
I try to remind myself of all this when I feel a bit swallowed up by Impressionism intimidation. Knowing these artists used techniques that I can also acquire with a little practice and patience is comforting.
More Plein Air Guidance
I’ve spent a lot of time working on my Impressionist methods, mimicking the Masters’ techniques with pastels — a versatile and accessible medium well-loved by the Impressionists and perfect for capturing sumptuous color.
I’ve learned a lot from my own research, but Aaron Schuerr’s Plein Air Pastel Workshop Collection has also given me an incredible amount of great guidance and information.
Aaron’s focus is on forward-thinking contemporary practices that make the idea of working with my own brand of Impressionism more of a real and immediate possibility. This collection can bring the Impressionists a step closer to you, too.
Below is a preview of the artist’s video workshop, Pastel Painting Master Class: Color for Landscapes, which is part of the collection. In this teaser trailer, you’ll get a sneak peek of a pastel-centric color wheel, plus four inspiring exercises centered around color. Enjoy!