Whenever I end up in a conversation where other artists start talking about the kit they take with them when plein air painting–and it often starts with what plein air easel is the best–I tend to keep quiet. Very quiet.
|A page from my sketchbook when I was painting outdoors.|
I love to walk in the landscape and I love landscape painting, but I prefer not to do the two together. Rather, I like to go out and about with a small sketchbook, pencil and pocket watercolor set in my day bag, spending more of my time observing and taking notes (both visual and in words) than I do sketching. I let it all percolate in my mind and, back in my studio, work out what I’m going to translate into paint, what aspect of what I’ve seen I’ll use.
I do know it’s not a disreputable approach, but faced with painters who work on large paintings outdoors in all weathers, there’s something about saying I’ve used watercolor in my sketchbook when it was drizzling that makes me feel like an artistic wimp.
I once met an artist who doesn’t have a dedicated painting studio with walls and a roof, who does all her painting outdoors, in all seasons. Wind-blown sand, pieces of grass, a smudge of mud become part of the final piece. I overheard someone in the gallery describe her work as “blustery” and thought it superbly apt.
It’s not really the blustery wind that stops me, nor the cold seeping into my fingers nor the insects that come out when it’s hot. It’s having to cart stuff with me, when all I want to do is walk unencumbered. Walking with an uncluttered body helps unclutter my mind, which means I take in more and that means I’ve more to use on a canvas back in my studio.
People who buy my paintings don’t generally ask me if I painted them on location. Rather they tell me I’ve captured the sense of the sea or landscape; often the sense of the weather. It’s a question other artists ask, and in those odd occasions when it’s asked with a sense of one-upmanship, I tend to paraphrase this quote from Monet:
“Whether my cathedral views, my views of London and other canvases are painted from life or not is nobody’s business and of no importance whatsoever.”
What do you say about plein air painting? What appeals and what holds you back? Leave a comment and let me know.