Saturday, October 3, 2009

Plein Air Watercolor Class

Today the Brush Strokes watercolor class was a plein air workshop at Herb Parson's Lake in West Tennessee. The fall weather was ideal for painting "on location" with warm fall temperatures, a nice breeze, and sunny skies!

With so much beauty around, the most difficult part of the class was selecting what to paint. I'll share photos of the class in today's blog and share photos of the finished paintings in another blog later this month.

The following are tips for "plein air" painting:

Plein air is a term derived from the French phrase en plein air, which literally means 'in the open air'. It's a familiar concept today. In the late 1800s when the Impressionists ventured out of their studios into nature to investigate and capture the effects of sunlight and different times of days on a subject, it was quite revolutionary.

The following are questions and answers about plein air painting:

What and Where Do I Paint Plein Air?
Your subject matter is entirely up to you, but remember that you don't have to paint everything you see; be selective, think about what the essence of the scene is. Focus on what you see, not what you can imagine or intellectualize about the subject (otherwise you may as well be back in your studio. Look right around, 360 degrees, so you don't miss the possibilities 'behind' you. Look around first before you start painting.

Don't think that it needs to be somewhere far away or exotic, you can go to a local park, to a friend with a lovely flower garden, or even set up your watercolors on a table in a coffee shop. The ideal spot to set up will be in the shade, out of the wind, but this often isn't possible.

How to Deal With Spectators While Painting Plein Air
There's something about seeing an artist at work that makes people extremely inquisitive, more likely to talk to a stranger, and prone to giving unwanted opinions. It can be disconcerting, especially if your painting isn't going well, and quite disruptive. Considering positioning yourself where people can't come up behind you, such as against a wall or in a closed doorway. If you don't wish to chat, be politely non-responsive along the lines of "I'm sorry I can't talk right now I've only a limited time to do this".

Do I Have to Finish the Painting Outdoors?

Purists will argue that a plein-air painting needs to be started and finished outside the studio, but surely it's the end result that counts, not simply where you created it? If you prefer to sketch or make preparatory paintings to work up in the studio, do so. I recommend taking a photo of what you are painting to complete later in your studio. Painting outdoors can be unpredictable – weather, crowds, wildlife, etc. Take a photo of your subject so that the painting can be completed later. It is very difficult to remember details of what you were painting when you are finishing it up back in the studio.

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