American Artist has recently offered a great deal of information to those of us who enjoy working out in nature with oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, or drawing materials. Senior Editor Allison Malafronte did a great job organizing a state-by-state landscape painting competition and interviewing notable plein air painters about their experiences on our Plein Air Blog. Also, Senior Editor Brian Riley posted galleries of images by both contemporary and historical artists who worked outdoors, including some of the 18th- and 19th-century artists whose paintings were recently exhibited at The Morgan Library & Museum, in New York City, and were described in the April, 2009 issue of the print magazine.
I had a chance to apply some of this shared knowledge when I hauled my oil painting supplies to New Orleans last weekend and set my easel up in the historic French Quarter. The weather was a bit chilly by local standards, but since I escaped a foot of snow and bitterly cold temperatures in New York I wasn’t about to complain. I used a tiny Flip video camera to record the progress of two of my paintings and posted one of them below. (You can see the other video here.)
I’m not going to brag about the paintings, nor am I going to make excuses for failing to produce masterpieces. I will only say that I was totally exhilarated by the experience of spending a few hours focused on using oil paints to respond to what I saw and felt. It was enough just to be in that fascinating, historic, colorful place and to challenge myself to understand how the sunlight impacted the shapes, colors, and atmosphere. I tried to remember all the advice offered by the artists I’ve interviewed about establishing a clear center of interest, starting with simple shapes that can be broken into smaller details, balancing the warm and cool colors, integrating hard and soft edges, and allowing some areas to remain sketchy while others are sharply defined.
When I was halfway through developing each painting, I experienced that common feeling of having lost control and needing to wipe the paint off the Gessobord panel, but I was determined to salvage the picture, so I kept following the procedures outlined in many of the articles in American Artist. I stood back and checked the drawing, considered whether I was maintaining the important value and color relationships, and adjusted the brushwork so that there would be a suggestion of more detail and texture than I actually painted. The resulting paintings won’t win any awards, but I can put them in my office as reminders of satisfying experiences.
If you have recommendations to offer other plein air painters about great places to work, equipment they might find useful, events in which they might want to participate, workshops they might want to consider joining, or videos/DVDs they might want to watch, I would appreciate you sharing those recommendations below.
M. Stephen Doherty