View Full Version : plein aire pastelling quandry

11-19-2003, 06:49 PM
I have been to the plein aire forum but I wanted to get some advice here too. I went out today and tried to take my pastel setup outdoors. I realized something -- I DON'T LIKE PLEIN AIRE at all. Everyone tells me that I can't be a really "good artist" unless I paint outdoors. I am so much happier painting indoors for various reasons, but I have somewhat of a physical handicap and it is very difficult for me. I do enjoy doing watercolor sketching outdoors though and have done that many times and then used those sketches and photos to paint from. Art is my joy and I want to do what makes me happy. Does everyone paint plein aire? Are there professional artists out there who do pastels and only paint in the studio? I am just curious about this.


11-19-2003, 07:51 PM
I think there are lots of pastelists who don't do plein aires.
I have set myself a goal of making 100 plein airs because there are challenges that I won't have otherwise and because landscapes are my favorite subject. I was inspired by Carly, our moderator, who paints beautiful plein airs .
To me it's a learning exercise. But they have "grown" on me, and now I quite enjoy them. I do consider it a bonus at this stage if they turn out well, (at 28 so far) and I don't expect them to be successful necessarily.
I have a little backpack that also is a stool. If I don't have to walk very far I carry a folding chair and use the pack as a table. Otherwise I sit on the stool and work on a light board. Sometimes I just sit in the car- that counts, too! :)

11-20-2003, 09:16 AM

Good for you for at least trying it. And -- don't be discouraged by just the first attempt. Try it again - several times if you can. I don't think anyone truly (If the truth be told!!!!) enjoys their first several experiences painting plein air. There are exceptions, of course!

ALSO -- big also! Don't let anyone tell you that you are not a "true artist" unless you paint plein air. There are many people out there that cannot for one reason or another paint plein air -- and they are wonderful artists!

I have been painting for about 30 years and, though I painted sporadically plein air several times, I did not enjoy it. Just in the last couple of years (and this last one more so), I have ventured out again with more of a purpose! And, I am finding it both frustrating and exhilarating at the same time. Though these works do not look as finished as my studio works, I still find a freshness to them that just takes me back to the feeling I had while doing them.

Whatever way you decide to paint -- plein air or studio -- or both -- you are an artist!

Be sure to show us what you did!

Alachua Artist
11-20-2003, 11:34 AM
Is this like the phrase "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche?"

I'm a REAL artist, and I don't do en plein aire, other than to take photos of what the plein aire is. I usually travel by motorcycle, and the plein aire scenes I paint of storms and other such weather-related effects would be hazardous to my health had I stayed to actually paint. Besides, with my long hair, wild wind and rain are not what I would consider a fun afternoon of producing art.

The studio is my kingdom. I am lucky to have beautiful windows that face north, a creek outside my door, and heavy screens to keep the bees and mosquitoes off me and my work.

I think real artists work anywhere, whether en plein aire or aire conditioned, and it's the soul of the artist and their work that will make it real or not.

And that's that.

11-20-2003, 11:38 AM
Okay, I feel much better now. I have many years to try plein aire, and I may try it again, but for now I like my warm cozy art studio.


Kathryn Wilson
11-20-2003, 12:42 PM
Hi Shari: Don't beat up on yourself if your first try didn't work.

It may be that you are trying to take too much with you. My most successful plein aire is in a sketchbook (especially made for pastels), some pastels pencils, and a small selection of half-stick pastels.

The sketchbook I'm talking about can be purchased through Dakota Art, but you can also make up your own. The one I purchased is a hard binder with a wonderful mechanism that allows it to fold back on itself, with Art Spectrum paper cut to fit, with glassiene sheets inbetween.

I just sat on a stump in front of my subject with the book in my lap. It was a heck of a lot more fun that draggin my french easel along, and I would not have been able to get to this particular spot with an easel anyway.


11-20-2003, 02:30 PM
Kat, that sketchbook binder sounds fantastic!

Shari, I didn't realise until I started hanging out on these forums that working from photos was frowned upon by many. There is plenty of scope for being creative with ref images and I don't believe painting from them makes anyone less of an artist - each of us chooses the procedures and skills and knowledge we want to develop in order to create our own kind of art the best we can.

I can appreciate the passion of the plein air painters because I know that I get a great thrill from doing a good job of observing and painting even one object from life ... capturing something solid and real through direct observation is quite exciting to me, and I feel I'm learning something each time I do it. That needn't be outdoors - I can experience it doing still lifes - but I should imagine being out in the fresh air heightens the sense of excitement, if you've got the nerve to take your setup into the open.

I once spent a wonderful few hours painting outdoors in acrylics, and I think what made it wonderful was having the company of a painting friend (confidence in numbers), finding a spot out in the middle of the countryside where not a single person crossed our paths all afternoon (nobody to see my painting if it turned out badly!) and knowing I had the whole day and didn't have to rush back home. Since then, I've done plenty of small plein air sketches, mostly w/colour in a 4x6" sketchbook and a few in pastels - but like you, I felt I should be venturing out with all my pastel stuff and working on a larger scale, so that's what I did on one of the International Plein Air Days back in September. No way would I dare to set up an easel in public, so I took along a large, stiff-backed pastel pad to lean on, determined to give it a shot. I hated it!! Felt so self-conscious, it was as if I couldn't even see what was in front of me, and I spent the most miserable hour not managing to paint a few trees and a fence before packing up and heading home, feeling like a failure.

I'm not keen to feel like that again, but I know I may have to if I don't want to regret it in years to come. Marsha's post about nobody enjoying their first few plein air experiences gives me hope!!

11-20-2003, 02:53 PM
Hi Sheri...I replied over in the plein aire forum about my set up. I totally agree with the others...you are an artist if you create, whether it be indoors or out. Where you are comfortable...that's the key. I didn't do plein aire much in my earlier attempts. I was happy working with photos (which there is nothing wrong with)...but there came a time when I wanted to see the stuff in the picture first hand...large, full sized. So, I started slow. Just doing sketches in watercolor. Seeing how much I could get on a page in the time allotted. (I work full time in an office, so many times, I am DYING to get out!!) I found that I loved seeing the true colors of nature...as well as the larger references. I could paint from life, instead of a little bitty picture. The shadows were clearer (as long as I got them down quick enough before the light changed), colors bright.

Don't discount plein aire...but give it a chance....when YOU feel like it!! Don't get frustrated on your workshop. You will be learning from a great teacher. One of the people here in the pastel forum has taken a class with Handell...she can give you lots of ideas.

Try things that are small for your first attempts..don't try and get EVERYTHING in. One tree....a small road, a barn. Just some things to get your feet wet getting in the shadows and the light.
Look at some of Larry's demos...he is great at plein aire.

But don't EVER think you are not an artist if you don't plein aire!!
Do what feels good!!!!


11-20-2003, 04:11 PM
Thanks for all the support and encouragement. I was really stressing over this, but I think I will know WHEN and IF the time is right for plein aire. That binder sounded so good, that I called dakota and ordered one. I can fit it in a backpack and sit on a park bench and work, sounds great! Okay, thanks so much, I am going to be more gentle on myself from now on, promise!!!


11-20-2003, 04:50 PM
Hi Shari

Get any group of people together and and you have some disagreement on whatever. Cant say I have seen any rules of how to do things or your hung drawn and yuck. Its open slammy, main requirement is enjoy what your doing, even muck up's.
Great if it works for you, don't loose any sleep over it. Look out your window and paint/draw what you see. Good practice if nothing else. The great masters of the past used many tricks to create which would be frowned upon by modern day purists.
Just enjoy what you do, stretch into something different if you will for self growth and mainly have a ball.
Enjoy what you can

11-20-2003, 10:52 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Shari
[B]I have been to the plein aire forum but I wanted to get some advice here too. I went out today and tried to take my pastel setup outdoors. I realized something -- I DON'T LIKE PLEIN AIRE at all. Everyone tells me that I can't be a really "good artist" unless I paint outdoors.

Shari, I don't know who "everyone" is but you can tell them "they ain't right"! :D I see fantastic art all the time that is produced in the studio and by really good artists, too!

Plein air painting was a crash course for me in studying the landscape! but I think that if I put as much energy and perseverance into my studio work, it would improve also. My best advice is....

wherever you choose to paint, give it your all. Learn all you can, experiment all you want, do your art every day, and never look back...only forward to the next painting!

11-21-2003, 12:20 AM
99% indoor. I do mostly figurative work - sometimes nude (model, not me) - and getting people to undress outdoors is a bit difficult!

I don't really like the feeling of being rushed when I paint outdoors, anyway. And all of my stuff takes a bit longer than a few hours.

Have you thought about doing the sketching outdoors and use them as references for a finished piece? Using no camera and no reference pics other than the ones you make yourself, this can be an interesting challenge.


11-21-2003, 12:45 AM
Paul, your reply made laugh so much!!! I am trying to picture you in the buff painting your model outdoors, very funny. This is a good challenge, to go without a camera, I am very fond of my digital camera, but I will try just doing the sketches. I took a trip out recently to scope out places I would like to paint but I took my camera. I really like doing watercolor sketches the best, and I always take my little watercolor book and field kit. Thanks for all the support. I feel that people here at wet canvas are so wonderful, it's amazing to know there is a place to go with questions and concerns and support for others too. Thanks everyone.


11-21-2003, 04:37 AM
Originally posted by paulb
Have you thought about doing the sketching outdoors and use them as references for a finished piece? Using no camera and no reference pics other than the ones you make yourself, this can be an interesting challenge.

Paul, that would make a superb Project! Maybe one for the springtime? :)

11-21-2003, 04:55 AM
There are loads of professional wonderful artists that only take photos outside and turn them into glorious paintings safe and sound in their indoor studio. There are no rules in art. Just do what you love.
Here's one of those artists, although no pastelist:

11-21-2003, 12:50 PM

Thanks for the link, these are beautiful works of art!!! And thanks for the encouragement and support.


11-21-2003, 03:37 PM
Dear Shari,

I find your question also interesting. Some people really make a religion of "Plein air". I have seen a lot of very good plein air paintings,but there are restrictions outdoor which can be seen in the work.
Also I am aware that I have always a kind of camera view for composing in my head when I select a certain scenery.

I do like Plein air because you can see a lot more than on a photograph. Also I like to be outdoor in summer rather than sitting inside the house.

I used to do oils outdoor but stopped that because there are technical restrictions outdoor. Pastels are very good and to avoid the rush I now go out for 2-3 sessions to complete a painting.

So after all I think I work 50/50 indoor outdoor and maybe
50% of my indoor is from photographs.

best regards

11-22-2003, 04:26 AM
One of the best ways to REALLY discover if you like to work out of doors or not is to go on a week's painting course, where all work is done outside. I have discovered that the first day or two feel ghastly, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and you wish you'd never gone along. By the end of the week, you start to produce worthwhile work, and it becomes much more enjoyable! It's true for almost everyone new to working outdoors. There is no way to compare the vision of what you can see outside, with what you see from photographic reference. A tree, outside, is HUGE, you can see every crack in the bark while on a photo it is only 1-2" big!! And cameras tell lies. Sometimes we see TOO much outdoors - but it is nevertheless a valuable experience.

Having said all that - there are many, many brilliant artists who work in the studio, even some of those producing landscapes. I am currently writing a book, which has involved interviewing 8 professional, and highly qualified artists. MOST of them work in the studio, and one superb landscape painter, whose work is highly sought-after all over the world, doesn't even own an easel!! He stands looking at landscape for ages; makes some notes and sketches sometimes, and then all his work is done from inspiration from these sketches, and his memories.

However, 7 of the 8 (the eighth one is an abstract painter) have previously worked from life.....be it landscape, still life, figure......and all claim that their work would not have evolved with its current strength, without the discipline of working from life. ("From life" means just that - not necessarily landscape, but garden, still life and figure are also "from life".) They all produce sketches of landscape, if they paint landscape.

Why not start plein aire with a different approach - fill a whole sketchbook. Not produce lots of paintings, lugging heavy equipment around all over the place. Fill a whole sketchbook over a period of time...some simple line drawings, perhaps some with a touch of colour, using a few coloured pencils, or a tiny watercolour sketchers box. I promise you will begin to enjoy the experience of using your eyes outdoors, but there will be less stress in the exercise.