Plein air painting enthusiasts often talk about how different the painting experience is when you are painting outdoors, under the sun. There's a thrill that comes from the challenge of capturing the scene–a spontaneity that records an artist's impression as well as the information of the scene. But another aspect of working plein air is the experience itself, the fact that you, the artist, are not just an observer of a scene but a player within it. In the June issue of Pastel Journal, Montana artist Aaron Schuerr, talks about one particular evening painting in Yellowstone National Park when he set out to paint an incredible sunset, but walked away with an unforgettable outdoor experience. He writes:
|The Sun Worshipers (pastel, 16 x 22) is a studio painting based
on a plein air oil study that Schuerr painted in Yellowstone
National Park on a fine summer evening.
"I've moved to the edge of a steep embankment carved by the river. Painting a sunset is an act of faith. If you wait for it to happen, you're too late. So I start tentatively, blocking in the large forms, anticipating light veiled by atmosphere and transformed into pure, illuminated color. When it happens–smoldering rich licks of red against gray clouds–I race, working intuitively. What the French call a pochade, or a painted sketch, I call a panic painting: Get it before it's gone. It's a thrill to work this fast, without any thought of finesse, just putting the color down.
"A few adjustments to the dark bushes lining the golden ribbon of river are made by aid of a headlamp. I have no idea if the painting works; it's too dark to really see it. But the lingering light burns like a fine scotch, warming me with a deep satisfaction. I am right here, right now, and everything else is superfluous."
To read more about Schuerr's encounter–complete with sleepy bears, coyotes and sandhill cranes–check out the June issue of Pastel Journal.