View Full Version : Plein Air

10-13-2004, 07:45 PM
Took a double handful of pastels, a sheet of canson and some wetones to keep my fingers clean and went outside to day...no, no, noone will ever see the result - it has been mercifully destroyed. It was so against nature, I fear reprecussions from Mother Nature herself!

Why is it so much harder? What am I missing? Is it simply easier from a photo because the photo is flat and i dont have to make adjustments from 3D?

It was cloudy and bugs abounded and just not nice all around **whine** :rolleyes:

10-13-2004, 09:28 PM
I think that plein air painting is something you have to practice, like anything else, to get really good at. if you look over on the plein air forum...there are some really talented plein air painters and some others that look like childrens squiggles and scribbles with crayon. Everyone is at a unique place in their artistic journey and they are bound to progress as they go.

Over the winter, I am trying to put together a good plein air kit so I can be ready to give it a whirl come spring and summer next year. I know that my first one will be ucky and probably, so will my 20th...but in that 21st painting...I hope to see how much I have changed and grown in the experience and then there will be no stopping me!

I hope you'll keep trying and post some of the work you do to inspire the rest of us who are trapped in our studios and too scared to try.

Kitty Wallis
10-13-2004, 09:41 PM
(why isn't there a hug icon?)
Cori's right, You can consider yourself a pioneer, exceeding your personal best. It is much easier to get a presentable piece from a photograph, but the treasure is out there, challenging Mother Nature. The more you work from our natural teacher, the planet, the more you will bring to your studio work. You are building a repertoire of information, giving you a much deeper ability with photos. Even if you never make a plein air piece you like it's mucho valuable work.

OK I'll climb down from my soap box now and beg your indulgence.

(climbing back up)+ did you know that a photo can show only 10-15 variations on a single hue. Plenty you say? Our own eyes, evolved on this planet, can see 2000! variations of a single hue. If trained.

K Taylor-Green
10-13-2004, 09:54 PM
I did a plein air once, in watercolor. I laughed at it. The reason I did it? It was a fun outing with my mother-in-law. Did I learn anything? Probably, but it was a couple of years ago, and I don't remember. If I were going to paint landscapes, I'd do it til I got it "right". Kitty's right, mother nature is the best teacher for painting mother nature!!

learning to paint
10-13-2004, 11:39 PM
I struggled with the same complaints, but I'm now out just about every weekend for at least two or three hours. Some thoughts:

1. Find a comfortable place. If you stand in the sun, or sit in a place where it's buggy or humid, you will be unhappy, so avoid those spots. Recently, I've painted at the edge of a pumpkin patch, beside a campground pond, twice on footbridges (nice vistas, not too much foot traffic). I avoid standing in a grassy field, being too close to a busy road, being anyplace that's even vaguely muddy or not firm.

2. Get a good easel. I'm happy with the Jullian Half Box, though I cannot figure out what to place in the drawer.

3. Bring a bottle of water. Two, actually. One to drink, the other to wash your hands.

4. Buy a small foldup table, the kind with the slatted top that rolls up. That way, there's plenty of place for your stuff.

5. Don't work too big. I either use the smaller Wallis pad sheet or the larger Wallis pad sheet. I don't use anything except Wallis because I do make a whole lot of mistakes, and I can easily correct them or layer over them in the field. When I've tried Canson or other less tolerant papers, my results have been horrible.

6. Get yourself a 2 foot square masonite board, the thinner kind sold in the back of every Home Depot store for under $2. I just bought 5 and spent less than $10.

7. If it's windy, don't bother. If there's even a vague chance of rain, think twice, because wet pastels don't last too long.

8. Talk to people. And add life to the picture you are painting by including people in the image. Yes, it's difficult, and yes, it takes a lot of time and patience, but nothing lights up a plein air landscape like a few people doing something. (In fact, I'm unhappy with my results so far, so as it gets colder, I'm going to concentrate on bodies in motion this winter, perhaps even in a sketchbook [I've been trying to convince myself to actually use a sketchbook for several years now; this winter, I'm going to do it!].

9. Take as many pastels as you want to bring along. You never know what you are going to need.

10. Unless you've painted a masterpiece, give the resulting work to the people who were kind enough to let you work nearby. I just gave my three-hour 9x12 sketch of the pumpkin patch to the woman who owned the small farm. She was thrilled. I learned a lot, but after the picture was complete, I knew I would toss it in a drawer. That's the thing I'm learning about plein air painting-- it's not so much the end result that matters, it's the process of being out in the cool fall air surrounded by orange pumpkins and cider and nice people, and learning more about how to make a good picture.

Anyway, that's my ten cents...

10-13-2004, 11:52 PM
Wow! Those are some really great tips. i'll have to remember those as i put together my kit! :D Thank you!

10-14-2004, 12:19 AM
Wow! For a "new member" you've certainly got a lot of experience to share! That's a great list of plein air tips...so good, in fact, I think I'm gonna rate this thread as excellent and hope others will weigh in with their own tips and hints!

Interesting info, too, Kitty!

All I've ever done "plein air" is one oil painting and a gazillion ink or pencil sketches with notes. I was amazed at how much those sketches taught me tho...I think the real nub of the plein air thing is that it teaches you to really, really SEE! It's amazing what good you can get out of just sitting and LOOKING, too. Photos are great, but the experience of really looking at the world around ya is the only real way to learn about it. Like ya said, Pastel Mama...photos are FLAT, and no matter how good your camera is, a photo is a dead thing depicting a living thing and the two just do not equate that well.

All that mystical stuff aside, I often have the same problem you do with being overwhelmed by the whole big scene. When I finally get out again, I'm gonna employ the old crutch of using a viewfinder...I think I'm a lot like a horse in need of blinkers! :D

10-14-2004, 04:19 AM
I remember my first plein air experience - arghh! I have spent the vast majority of my life in the open spaces observing and noting the changes in seasons, animal movements, weather effects and variations in topography etc. As well as navigating from point A to point B where there are no roads or trails. So... having painted in a studio, but lived in the outdoors I thought, hey this ought to be fun, and not too difficult. I was so demoralized at the end of my first day I wondered if I had ever done a respectable painting. I can still remember it as though it was yesterday. Because I really do know the out of doors and I have several landscape pieces that have sold or are admired I threw out the "I do not how to draw or paint" self doubts and discovered that I was 1. overwhelmed with all the possibilities, 2. not prepared correctly with the proper equipment. To overcome these problems I put together several photos of the landscape and set time limits on myself to define my area of interest, establish the drawing and block in the masses. At first I used 30 minutes maximum, today I am often down to 10 to 15 min. and this translates nicely to the plein air environment. The last thing I did was modify my equipment so that I could pack everything into a backpack. This has reduced my set up time, increased my mobility and added immensley to having an enjoyable outing.

Plein air is not easy for me yet, however I am more confident and willing to keep at now. I hope this helps.

10-14-2004, 06:50 AM

Good for you for just trying. Next time it will get just a tad bit easier -- and everytime after that it will. Then before you know it, you will be addicted to it.

I took a workshop this past spring from a wonderful artist, Bob Rohm. Some of his first words to us were, "Try to remember to approach painting plein air as your classroom. Everything you do is with the purpose of learning, not to produce finished paintings for framing!" Of course, I have paraphrased what he said -- but it is very close to exactly what he said.

I have really tried to keep that uppermost in my mind when I am outside painting. It seems to reduce any tension I feel about doing the plein air work. I am probably approaching 50% plein air and 50% studio work now. I would say about 1/3 to 1/4 of my plein air work is frameable -- the rest go under my table for pulling out when I work on studio work -- gives me great information to supplement my own photos of the locations where I have painted.

And, boy do they really look different when I bring them indoors. The difference in lighting is so great -- sometimes what I think is a very good painting outdoors, looks less so when I bring it indoors. Makes me realize that I am painting way too dark when outdoors -- because of the brighter light! There are so many things we learn by going out and painting plein air! Makes every bit of it worthwhile!

Keep doing it!!!!

10-14-2004, 07:11 AM
Important things to take with you:

1. BUG KILLER, or cream to put on, which they wont like eating.

2. VIEWFINDER. There is so much landscape out there, using a viewfinder cuts out the majority of it, and helps you to see how the finished thing might look.

3. CAMERA. Having a few back-up photos, so that you can fiddle a bit with your pic when you get home, is very useful.

4. SUNHAT in case the sun comes around and gets into your face.

5. SKETCHBOOK/soft pencil, to do a few little thumbnails to sort out the composition before you begin to work in colour.

Then, my advice would be to work small to begin with. It is much less daunting. You dont need to take so much kit about with you if you work small. I use Kitty Wallis small pads, they are terrific for outdoor small studies, which can then be worked up into much bigger pieces later if I feel so inclined.

the mere act of sitting and looking and painting, will imprint the scene onto your mind. You will surprise yourself with how much you begin to notice after a while ... taking a photo and working from it is absolutely NOT the same. Somehow the scene sinks into your consciousness when you are in it, you probably almost see too much, but honestly, there is nothing quite like it.

Also - it is exciting. The adrenalin gets going, as the scene changes with the changing light. This will feed into your work regardless. With a photo in front of you, nothing changes, it remains static, there is no breeze, no smell, no changing light conditions. So, not the same adrenalin. Dont discount the importance of this........it makes a huge difference to the painting process.

My recommendation is that you do at least 20 plein aire sessions before deciding it isn't for you. You will learn a lot in that time frame, and will begin to find a way that suits you. You may never be a plein aire painter ... or you may learn to love it. But you have to give it, and yoruself, a chance.


10-14-2004, 08:12 AM
Cory, our winters are so mild and it really would be a shame not to take full advantage of it when so many cannot paint outdoors when they want too. I'll keep trying.

Kitty-- "did you know that a photo can show only 10-15 variations on a single hue. Plenty you say? Our own eyes, evolved on this planet, can see 2000! variations of a single hue. If trained." no I did not know this! Thank you.

learning, your cents makes plenty of sense!

Thank you Sooz for admitting how overwhelming it really is.

Sinuk your observations are valuable, thank you.

Jackie, oh I will continue but the thought is daunting, I have Wednesday off so I have promised myself to go every WEd. Thank you for commenting - I love reading your writings.

James or Jimmy Jim
10-15-2004, 10:30 AM
I think I'll share my introduction to plein air painting. :D

(This was originally posted in another thread.)

Painting plein air is certainly not for the weak-hearted! Why didn't you guys warn me before I tried it and tell me how difficult it would be?

This is funny! I had been looking forward to trying this for a while and decided to give it a shot before my new easel arrived - couldn't wait any longer. So, I packed up my supplies (I took a photo tripod and rigged up a way to hold a canvas) and off I went to find somewhere fairly private for my first painting.

I drove to a farm with a really nice barn that I had my eye on. I went up to the farmhouse and rang the doorbell, and was eventually greeted by an old man (looked around 80) - he took a while to answer, as he had his music really cranked up! :D. He said "excuse all the flies, don't know where they come from" - there must have been over a hundred flies in the little mud room. Undaunted, I introduced myself and said "Hi, my name's Jim, I'm an artist, and wondered if you'd mind if I painted your barn?" He smirked and replied "You want to paint my barn? It could use a painting, it's really peeling." I then said, "I'd like to paint a 'picture' of your barn." Anyway, to make a long story short, he said "sure, there was also a photographer who took pictures of it - from all sides!" then he proceeded to tell me about the problem he was having with his swollen foot, and the fact that it might be gout ... I think you get the picture. Nice old man though! I walked around trying to find a good spot to set up, then realized that I had to be across the street in the middle of a plowed field to have a good painting - the barn was massive!

So, frustrated, I packed away my gear, jumped into my car and started looking for another spot. I had to hurry ... it was getting late. I found a few nice spots, but nowhere to park! I decided to go home. Then on the way, I found a pretty decent spot! A hilly residential area in the country with a nice rock wall and even a place to park. Perfect! I pulled over and set up my paintbox with the "new" (home-made) legs attached, my tripod and chair (the tripod wasn't high enough for me to stand).

While I was setting up, a family walked by (bird watching) and asked "so, you're an artist?" I felt like saying "no, I'm a model waiting for an artist to walk by". I chit-chatted with them as I watched my open paintpox tip over and fall over the hill, paints and brushes flying! The legs couldn't adjust to the uneven terrain. After collecting my stuff, I set up and started painting, only to find that I couldn't see my canvas clearly as the chair was at a different level on the hill. After about ten minutes, I packed up and went home, defeated.

I'm not a quitter though! I went out the next day and bought a Julian easel - figured I needed some decent equipment (couldn't wait for my other one to arrive). I also made sure I knew how to set it up like an expert BEFORE heading out again. :D

So off I went again. After an hour of looking for someplace again "fairly private", I stopped at a rural park and found an adequate spot. I set up and started planning my composition. Man oh man, I had to use my camera to compose the picture! Then I started pushing mud around while making friends with a persistent fly, two strange men who were trying to find a private place to smoke some drugs and a few couples who asked "So, you're an artist?" While painting, the sunlight was so bright that I couldn't see what I was doing (I had "heard" about this problem) and had to keep moving my head from side to side because of the glare on the canvas. I have to admit that it wasn't always a problem though, as the sun played with me, disappearing for ten-fifteen minutes at a time. So much for consistent shadows (which kept changing anyway, as time passed). I won't even mention the effort it took to get the wet canvas back to the car.

Since then, I've had a dog run off with my roll of paper towels, had mineral spirits leak all over my cell phone and lunch, forgot the mineral spirits (took water by mistake), been entertained my a mariachi band (family picnic nearby) and mixed mosquitoes into my paint.

You plein air guys are superhuman!

Every painting is an experience to remember.

10-15-2004, 10:43 AM
Jim --- Roflmfbo!! :wave:

10-16-2004, 07:12 AM
Jim, all I can say is that it was a good job you took water instead of mineral spirits, because you would not have enjoyed taking mineral spirits instead of water and drinking that.

welcome to the plein aire club. Fun innit. There are few things I enjoy more than the warm breeze that turns into a monsoon and uproots the easel; the sunlight which moves around and roasts ONE bare arm; the refreshing driving rain which creates small lakes for me to drop my pastel box into; the comfort of my painting stool - aaah, no aching legs - and the joy of getting up at the end of a painting session to discover that my back is "out"; the encouraging words of passers-by, usually performed in loud whisphers so as not to disturb me - words like "I wonder how long SHE has been painting??", (which has a double meaning, when you think about it later), and best of all, the delight of getting a painting home, only to look at it later and wonder who on earth painted it, cos it sure as xxxx couldn't have been me.

My best plein aire session was at Monet's gardens in Giverney. I knew the rain was coming, so I was painting up a storm, working with speed and fury. I was surrounded by the French gardeners, most of them clearly amazed by my painting ability, pointing and smiling. Or so I thought. When the rain came, and I ran for cover, I discovered, in the Ladies bathroom, as you call it, that I had green pastel EVERYWHERE, all over my face. I looked like Kermit. I had obviously been a source of enormous amusement, rather than amazement, to all and sundry. :envy:


Mikki Petersen
10-16-2004, 12:29 PM
Plein aire is like medicine, unpleasant but necessary. My life has been spent in the out-of-doors, camping, hiking, canoeing, backpacking into the wilderness, etc. I am addicted to the beauty around me. BUT, painting in that "stuff" is a whole 'nother ball of wax. At this point in my painting career, I have a reasonable sense of how to make a painting...in my studio. Out there, even a quick sketch becomes a huge challenge. I have yet to do anything outdoors (even from my porch!) that was worth saving or could even be salvaged back in my studio. But will I keep doing it? YES! Why? Well, even having spent a lifetime observing nature, it is observed differently when I try to paint it. So, while I'm not creating art, exactly, I'm cataloguing huge amounts of information to take back into my studio...how the sunlight shines through a single leaf...how the shadow under that bush really IS purply colored...how all the leaves that are the exact same color when held side by side appear differently as the bend to the light...and so forth. Anybody observing me painting plein aire would probably wonder at the extent of my supplies for the incredibly BAD paintings I achieve. What they do not know is that I am not painting...I am analysing on paper and that I will do better work back in the studio because of it.

One trick I have learned that has not been mentioned yet...keep your easel in the shade for better color values. In the direct sunlight the colors look washed out sort of like painting under a flood light.

10-16-2004, 12:53 PM
Yep, shade can be handy! Just take into account if it's "green" shade which actually influences your colors a bit. I'm thinking an umbrella could really be helpful with that.

I'm afraid any outings I try from now on are going to be necessarily tame since I won't venture far from my car...getting too old and short of breath to hike up high-altitude trails to get the best view anymore. I'm also too set in my ways to forego at least water to drink, so restrooms need to be within driving distance at the least! I'm thinking I may never be a full-fledged plein air painter again, but I get a lot out of quick sketches and note-taking...far more than I can get from shooting pictures with a camera alone.

Jim, I think every plein air oil painting I ever did had a requisite number of gnats and skeeters embedded in the paint! I think that's how you prove it really WAS done PLEIN AIR! Not sure how you'd get that same ambience with pastels, tho!

10-16-2004, 12:58 PM
are gnats and skeeters archival? :D

(Yes, I am in a smart @$$-y mood today, thanks for asking...) :p

10-16-2004, 01:27 PM
When I stop to think about, I did a lot of drawing outside ("sketching") with Cray-Pas and crayons as well as pencil when I was a child and teenagerand never thought twice about it---the definition of sketching was that it was done outside!

And I work "plein aire" as often as possible, because it's easier and safer to be messy at the little table in the front yard of our building than on my living room rug! Good weather, usually, decent light (except it moves LOL), neaighbors to chat with, no cats...But I'm woking more or less from photos! the view is uninspiring, to say the least--not even romanticizable rundown buildings, it is just plain boring. So, I paint outside, but not plein air.

The prospect of putting my loose ends into my backpack and taking them up the hill, or into the car and down to the beach? Totally daunting! The friendly passers-by and seminary friends transmogrify into critics, and my drawing abilities, shaky at best, go down the toilet if I step foot out of my yard! My pictures must be perfect representations of the total beausty around me, etc.--you get the picture. Which is why I don't!!

Yet. It remains one of my goals.........

Kitty Wallis
10-16-2004, 03:14 PM
Libby, Your post reminds me of the countless students who I've taught who want to stay in their comfort zone, instead taking the chance of trying a new thing and 'making a mess'.

This is one of the best ways to delay growth. Getting it wrong isn't just that awful event that happens when a person makes mistakes. It's that necessary event that happens when a person makes one of the required* mistakes on their path to 'perfection' (a state that is never reached, by the way)

*Required mistake: The best method for locating an area that needs training, for instance, a misperception or a confusing belief about the subject, values, color reading, form, foreshortening, etc.... When we do it wrong we can see our problem. If we never do it wrong we can bask in the mistaken idea that we are just a few short hops away from that perfect work, now if we could only feel inspired...

Excuse me for using your post to illustrate this point. You are brave to honestly state your trepidation.

10-16-2004, 09:38 PM
Oh, don't worry about using that as an example--it seems to be typical of my approach to things! On the one hand, I seem to have given up on staying in the safety zone when I quit college half-way through ( and music school, not a nice, safe science path) to switch instruments and follow a music teacher and his gang halfway across the country. I've never stayed in the "safe" column for any great length of time since. On the other hand, I am coming to except that while I will get there eventually, I have to do it at my own pace, not necessarily my desired RIGHT NOW! pace.

Progress in the past 6 months alone, now that I think about it: I AM painting regularly now, I AM, sometimes, calling myself an artist (not "just trying to be" one), I am no longer worried about style, I'm less wrapped up in "good enough" and more seeing each painting as a step on the path....and I will be painting out there for real before long! As well, I hope, eventually, producing the kind of vivid, commanding, glorious work that I envision but can't quite reach yet.

Most importantly, I am, at the moment, satisfied that I just have to keep working at this stuff and the rest, results and progress and all that, will follow in good time. Now, tomorrow, I may feel very differently... :D

Better, yet, I am pleased with where I am at particularly when I remember that I have done maybe 20 pastels (all since February) and about the same number of acrylic paintings--instead of grousing about being a beginner, I am finally just being where I'm at and enjoying the journey.

I believe that my responsiblity is to continue to observe, as I do almost constantly when I am out, and put in the hours, and keep on pushing the envelope a bit at a time. Painting on site will simply be one more inevitable step on the journey, even if it seems scary now.

oops, sermonizing seems to be infectious ( La Sermonetta has returned....). I will now vacate my soapbox! :D

By the way, gnats and, especially, mosquitoes are considered a necessary part of any truly outdoor experience, and are best found floating in your coffee or oatmeal during the 3 seconds when you lift the mosquito netting away from your lower face to eat or drink! :evil:

10-17-2004, 06:32 AM
This has become a great little thread full of Wonderful advice (thank you!) and humorous stories from the field!

10-17-2004, 11:21 AM
Angie, I remember in September last year, going out with my pastels and attempting to join in with the international 3-day Plein Air Weekend that was being talked about in these forums. I came back feeling entirely defeated, with two things that barely counted as the beginnings of paintings - they were TOTAL rubbish, the worst scribbles I've ever put to paper!! I thought I would never attempt plein air again!

Since then I have done a handful of 30 - 60 minute plein airs in the most secluded places I've been able to find, and more recently, one longer landscape done in the relative comfort and safety-in-numbers of a painting holiday. I am very, very slowly getting to the point where I don't feel quite so horribly self-conscious painting in public ... though it will take a LOT more being brave and going out and just doing the thing before I see myself really getting past all that anxious chatter in my head at being out in a place where people can see and JUDGE me :eek: for my painting! When we first go outside to paint the big wide world, there's so much information coming in that our eyes and brain don't know how to handle it or filter it - and with self-consciousness and all sorts of other irritations to contend with (comments from passers-by, bugs, wind, rain) it's not surprising that we can't master the techniques straight away! For me, the worst thing about feeling self-conscious is that it makes me rush what I'm doing ... then, when I realise I haven't exhaled for about ten minutes, it occurs to me that through the panic I haven't been observing properly at all. So, what I try to do now is find a fairly quiet spot (knowing that someone's bound to come along sooner or later anyway, and maybe offer a comment; I just smile now and say hello and take some deep breaths and get on with my picture) and I concentrate on taking my time. If I feel panicky or impatient, I stop until it passes. I figure it's better to come away with something which is accurately observed but only half-done than a piece that's finished but rushed. I might not be able to hold it up and go, "Ta-daaa! I present to you ... my masterwork!" but it will be a record of my experience, and a gathering of truthful information. But getting past the idea that you have to come back from your expeditions with 'a painting' is quite a challenge in itself ... and one I'm still struggling with.

You could try working small to start with, with a little Ingres pad and just a few pastels or conté sticks - maybe choose a hue, brown or blue for instance, and take a range of tints and shades of that one hue and just use the values to recreate what you see, not worrying to begin with about the huge variety of colour that's out there. A viewfinder can be helpful too, either made of card or the one on your camera. And the first time you come up with something you're not unhappy with, I would encourage you to share it not just here but also with the Plein Air crowd. They understand the challenges for a newbie and will make you feel glad you've persevered and excited about the prospect of giving it another go! :)

10-17-2004, 03:29 PM
EJ - thank you so much for your plein air story...its nice to hear that it aint easy but worth it...I will give it a go wednesday.

James or Jimmy Jim
10-17-2004, 05:52 PM
Jackie, that's very funny stuff! :D

Painting outdoors can be overwhelming, for sure. I once saw a pastel artist painting knee-deep (don't know in what) in a field. I pictured his pastels tipping over!

The best experiences I've had are when little kids come up to look - probably the first time that they've ever seen a painter in the flesh. Old people like to come up for a chat too. :D I've had a few say that they used to paint when they were younger and, after seeing me paint, that they want to try again.

Mikki, use a brolly (as Jackie calls it – couldn't resist, Jackie. :D), to keep the direct sunlight off both the canvas and your palette (if you use paint, that is).

Kitty Wallis
10-17-2004, 08:15 PM
Here are a thousand words....

A plein air lily painting and a studio one from slides.

A studio portrait from slides.

A Giverny pond plein air painting and a studio one.

Pinecone Conniff
10-17-2004, 10:38 PM
This has been fun to read & maybe I am not adding anything new but plein air has become a very important part of my artwork!
I also love photography & I don't go out & shoot "snapshots" so I do enjoy using my photos as reference in the studio...
Painting on location at first is overwhelming but the next thing you know you are looking at a scene already visualizing how you would paint it! It takes time & getting use to...I find that the main thing is comfort.
Do whatever suits you to be as comfortable as possible on location!
And the lessons learned are invaluable & you just may come home with a little jewel of a painting! Keep at it!!

Mikki Petersen
10-18-2004, 01:15 AM
This is such an informative thread. The value in the encouragement alone makes it a winner but there is so much practical advice as well. I'm going to rate this in the hopes it gets saved.

10-18-2004, 05:43 AM
Kitty those pics are invaluable. Thank you for stating it so clearly!

Annette, hi, yup I believe both ways of painting are important and some artist are going to do way more of one or the other. I also think that maybe plein air would ebb and flow in and out of our lives depending on many factors. Thanks for weighing in,

Mikki, I agree, There's no way I couldve ever known how much I would learn when I posted my pathetic little whimper! :)

10-18-2004, 07:47 AM
Kitty, those paintings are ALL fantastic, but the plein air ones obviously have more life and pizzaz, don't they? Gorgeous RESPONSE to the environment...something you just can't quite duplicate in the studio. Not that studio work doesn't have it's own place, but the plein air work is so visceral and connected somehow! Wow!

10-18-2004, 09:47 AM
I have been following this thread with interest, but not participating until now because of my lack of experience with landscape work.

Kitty's posts with the clear contrasts brought up something for me and maybe someone already touched on it (when I wasn't looking) but maybe it's a new thought here.
I am thinking that painting plein air is to landscapes what painting portraits and figures from life is to portrait and figurative work? It is widely accepted that to attain that certain life-like look in portraits one must spend time observing the colors and values of form and the light surrounding the form that the eye can see which do not translate to photographs.
I have noted with particular interest that artists who have spent a great deal of time with plein air or painting from life (as Kitty has) have a different quality about their work. Still their studio work lacks some of the liveliness of their own plein air and has a more controlled feel about it, but there is a dimension added to it that only the experience of life gives them. Kitty's portrait posted here shows this.
This is a quality I strive for, but have yet to achieve and understand that I do need to paint from life (very trick when painting kids I might add!). It is one thing to be able to paint a beautiful reproduction of a photo and quite another to be able to interpret life as it breathes (or grows :D )onto one's canvas.
I for one am becoming bored with painting from photographs and am embarking on a journey to achieve that elusive lifelike quality. Maybe I can start by just getting out and painting my own back yard! :eek:

Kitty Wallis
10-18-2004, 02:44 PM
Because of this thread I've been reading the threads in the plein air forum. One suggestion for getting started in plein air: Do something from inside, looking out the window.

There have been many fine paintings based on this motif. Bonnard did a number of them. The big challenge is the value study, always a good lesson, showing a different value palette for the inside and the outside. For instance, white inside walls are darker than green outside leaves, even on a gray day.

I'm llooking out the window right now, it's a gray day here, there's an apple tree right outside my window. This room has aluminum window frames. The lit side of the apples are lighter than the window frames and the shadows on the apples are the same value. But a casual glance would see the apples as darker, since they are red. The white walls are lighter than the window frames and darker than the lightest lights on the green leaves.

Here's a quote I found on a plein air post:
Plein air painting has become the “people’s art.” It is affordable and easy to collect because of its small size. And it is personal. Owning a painting of your favorite beach or landmark and knowing the artist personally is a thrill that is addictive. This is an art form that is understood by everyone....blondheim12

10-18-2004, 04:51 PM
This is a great idea, Kitty, and I think someone here tried some inside out paintings last winter....sure beats freezing outdoors!

There's also a tip I read somewhere that just because your view from a window is crummy/uninspiring doesn't mean you can't use it with a more creative composition while using your RL VIEW's color palette. A snow scene comes to mind...maybe all you've got outside your window is a driveway and the weekly trash bins with a shapeless tree and a couple scrubby bushes. You can still draw up a good composition, maybe something from your sketchbooks, etc. and apply the COLOR and LIGHT you see in RL outside the window to this other composition. The blue shadows, for instance are the same whether their cast by a trash bin or tree stump or fence post. You get the idea....just studying the natural palette out there is worth its weight in gold!

learning to paint
10-21-2004, 11:31 PM
I just spent a few days in New England, painted, learned more.

It was kinda chilly. I associate plein air with warmer weather. This wasn't that. So: I spent time in a bandshell, in a gazebo on a village green, places outside where there was some protection. Seems like a small thing, I know, but two or three hours in cooling weather can become unpleasant.

BUT: there are no bugs!

This weekend is my first "paint out"-- 80 artists paint all day (any medium), and then, the public is invited for an end of day auction of the work. Since I've never tried to sell anything, this could be very embarrassing, very educational, or both.

Mikki Petersen
10-22-2004, 01:19 AM
I just spent a few days in New England, painted, learned more.

It was kinda chilly. I associate plein air with warmer weather. This wasn't that. So: I spent time in a bandshell, in a gazebo on a village green, places outside where there was some protection. Seems like a small thing, I know, but two or three hours in cooling weather can become unpleasant.

BUT: there are no bugs!

This weekend is my first "paint out"-- 80 artists paint all day (any medium), and then, the public is invited for an end of day auction of the work. Since I've never tried to sell anything, this could be very embarrassing, very educational, or both.

No bugs? What did you use for texture? :D The "paint out" sounds like it will be an interesting experience whether you chose to put anything up for auction or not. Great concept. Have fun!

Terry Wynn
10-22-2004, 01:30 AM
About 2 weeks ago, I pounced ahead with my first true plein air experience. I went to the Mississippi River, sat on a sand bank and painted the river stretched before me. Took a small rug (sprayed with bug spray), table easel on a box, a very small wooden sawhorse upon which I could secure the easel and enjoyed the glorious fall afternoon! I was near a ferry crossing so I felt relatively secure. I had 2 pretty elderly peoplle at different times traverse the rocky hillside and come down to see my painting! They were very complimentary (I was a little overwhelmed by the attention) but then I figured at their ages the eyesight might be kind to me!

Anyway, I painted, had a wonderful time - don't know that I would call them good - but it was good for my soul.

Attached is the last (very quickly done - it was getting dark) tiny painting. I have never done a piece of machinery and I know it is lacking but it was fun to do it fast. It was on my last little scrap piece of Wallis paper.....I know what I want for my birthday!

I will refine what I take - I didn't need all the pastels I took but I will definitely try more plein air.


Kitty Wallis
10-22-2004, 01:37 AM
Lovely, Terry, the place, the light, the atmosphere. Sure it was quick, the details are little smudged but the feeling is there and evocative of being there.

Mikki Petersen
10-22-2004, 01:39 AM
Terry, your experience sounds very pleasant and I like the painting you posted. Somebody finally posted a plein aire piece instead of just talking about it. Good for you! As for mine...nobody will ever seen any of them, so horrible are they!

Terry Wynn
10-22-2004, 02:09 AM
Hi, Mikki and Kitty:

Thanks for your comments. My photography skills are sadly lacking!

I'm not sure the little painting was worth posting - I mean that boat looks like a cardboard box! But I hope to get better the next time or the time after that or sometime . . .!!!

Whether I got anything very good in the way of a painting I had a wonderful day - out on a beautiful fall day - no cell phone, no interruption - just doing something I love to do. So, to me, that's a great day!

I did two other paintings but after I got home I realized that there wasn't a lot to them...just the challenge of painting water and the myriad reflections - there really was a strong focal point in either so I just considered them my doodles for that day... learning experiences and for some gloomy winter afternoon, pleasant reminders of the fun I had that day.

Hopefully I can try it again but they are calling for rain this weekend.


10-22-2004, 07:48 AM
This weekend is my first "paint out"-- 80 artists paint all day (any medium), and then, the public is invited for an end of day auction of the work. Since I've never tried to sell anything, this could be very embarrassing, very educational, or both.

I love the idea of this paint out sounds like FUN. :wave:

10-22-2004, 07:50 AM
Terry you painting looks like dusk to me and I think you did a fine job...my first has been discarded :p

Deborah Secor
10-22-2004, 01:10 PM
Well, how on earth did this little thread manage to escape my attention all this time?! I'm aspiring to spend more time painting outdoors, too, although the wintertime approaches. Window painting may have to suffice.

Not long ago I spoke to an artist who paints exclusively on location and advocates nothing else. He had worked for many, many years as an illustrator and developed the requisite skills to become quite successful at it. However, once he quit he decided painting from life was the only way. When I asked him if he thought that painting from photos strengthened skills that you could take with you out on location he vehemently disagreed. His belief is that it might be just the opposite--you might be able to translate some of your on location experience into that of painting from a photo--but why? He insisted that you get very different things from being there because there's a spiritual connection.

Kitty, your pictures are worth more than a thousand words. The camera is a tool we use to compose, but on site we use our eyes and brains and hearts, with very different results... And to that I will add, my 'differing results' seem to markedly improve with practice! LOL

One question: what do any/all of you think about a limited palette of colors versus trying to take all the pastels your little arms can carry (assuming you're not going to hike in, just set up near the car)? Have you found you need more colors, or that limiting what you bring has strengthened the work? Just curious.... :wink2:


Kitty Wallis
10-22-2004, 03:28 PM
Good thread isn't it?

I always go with a limited palette, just what a Casset box will hold, what I can spread out on my lap while I work. SInce I have many many pastels in my studio, this feels very limited to me. I always find several holes in my palette, always feel frustration.

I believe this adds to the strength of my color work, since I have been repeatedly forced to make a 'wong' color work. So, I have grown, finding more and more ways to interpert color/light/shadow effects, ways I would not have discovered without the necessity of invention.

The piece I'm working on may not be strengthened by the color inventions of that day, but gradually my work has been enlarged and improved.

Kitty Wallis
10-22-2004, 03:43 PM
This is a quality I strive for, but have yet to achieve and understand that I do need to paint from life (very trick when painting kids I might add!). It is one thing to be able to paint a beautiful reproduction of a photo and quite another to be able to interpret life as it breathes (or grows :D )onto one's canvas.
I for one am becoming bored with painting from photographs and am embarking on a journey to achieve that elusive lifelike quality. Maybe I can start by just getting out and painting my own back yard! :eek:

I'm surprised you haven't worked from life, your portraits of your children seem so filled with light and life.

Painting portraits from life is hard, at first, but doable and supremely rewarding. I made my living painting nothing but portraits from life for the first 25 years of my adult career. No photos. I remember painting a little girl as she ran around my easel.

Painting babies, who would look into my eyes as long as I was looking into theirs. The minute I looked away ! they are gone, then the time and patience to get them back...., work,... look away to find a color, !! gone again.

10-22-2004, 10:03 PM
I'm surprised you haven't worked from life, your portraits of your children seem so filled with light and life.

Thank you, Kitty! Honestly, I have only been painting portraits since June. Make that painting since June. I made about a half dozen drawings 15 years or so ago and thought they looked pretty good, but didn't get around to doing any more. I have always thought about painting, but didn't make the time until this year. My sister thinks I must have had a stroke or something, LOL, because nobody's every seen me do anything like this before. So, for me, photos have been an "easy" start. I don't copy them exactly. I use them for the shapes and then look at the live person to get color and light. I love the way paintings from life look just as I love the look of plein air. There is something fresher and closer about them. No lens or film or print image between the subject and the artist's eye. Pure human interpretation.

10-23-2004, 01:36 PM
I work from life, carry lots colours out with me, the same basic
assortment that I use for life work or studio work, I am used to carrying
them so just unpack them when back in studio,

when working in the field I can absorb the feel of the day and choose the elements(clouds, tides, wind, people)that appear in my scene from the parade of events that happen on location. I also feel that the human experience
without mechanical or digital aids will take on more value in the future.
I also have far more adventures out than in the studio!

working from photos is working with one eye


10-25-2004, 03:00 PM
[QUOTE=Kitty Wallisdid you know that a photo can show only 10-15 variations on a single hue. Plenty you say? Our own eyes, evolved on this planet, can see 2000! variations of a single hue. If trained.[/QUOTE]

Oh, oh. Looks like I need to buy a few more pastels !


10-26-2004, 08:56 AM
Wow! Kitty, I can't imagine being able to paint a moving target like that! You have my utmost respect there!

I haven't gotten out for plein air since my oil painting days, but I do remember what a rush it was, whether one got a finished painting out of it or not. Well worth the effort and mess.

But I'd also like to advocate plein air SKETCHES as being of amazing value as well. I've got old pen and ink sketches of places I went a couple decades ago that can STILL evoke the place in a FAR greater degree than any of the photos I took sometimes, at the same time. These sketches usually had lots of little notes and arrows and squiggles showing lighting nuances and color impressions. They were NOT finished drawings in any sense, but more of a quick impression in my own weird 'shorthand'. The odd thing is, I've used some of these over the last months to create paintings ... using the memory of the place that I get from those old sketches and it's amazing how well the sketches put my "mind's eye" back in the scene whereas some of the photos I took at the same place are just "blah" ho-hum, who'd-want-to-paint-THAT snapshots.

Funny how the mind works sometimes. But what I meant to get across here is that even if you don't have the wherewithal to do full color paintings plein air, quick sketches done this way can be invaluable, too. Try it sometime!

10-28-2004, 01:21 PM
I've shown these before, but ages back, and Sooz asked me to show them again.

Elsie Popkin, and her kit, photos found in a book on pastels:



top photo shows her carrying only part of her setup. How on earth does she carry those massive tables around? And where is the easel? The mind boggles.

I suppose one should not giggle at these, because, hey, perhaps she needs all those pastels, and with them, produces masterpieces that sell immediately.

But these still make me crack up, sorry Elsie! :eek:

10-28-2004, 01:50 PM
Imagine a sudden thunderstorm! :eek:

10-28-2004, 02:20 PM
We should have a contest to guess how many pastels she's got there! I just THOUGHT I was addicted! With this many sticks, I'd spend all my time choosing which to use!

A rain storm would be horrible, but so would a large dog on the loose! I don't even wanna think about that....

10-28-2004, 02:30 PM
I thought about a large dog on the loose, and cracked up all over again, ouch, my ribs hurt from laughing!!!

A sudden downpour would be hilarious too. I'd love to be there with a movie camera.


Mikki Petersen
10-28-2004, 02:47 PM
Oh Jackie, you have an evil spirit! It would make an amazingly funny video though. Talk about leaving home and taking it all with you! But, you are right again, maybe that's why her plein aire's are so successful.

For me, by the time I got set-up, I'd have lost the urge to paint... I have a collapsable tri-pod easel, my featherweight Gatorboard, and a box with about 70 of my favorite sticks...oh, and a cane that converts to a three legged stool.

10-28-2004, 05:50 PM
For me, by the time I got set-up, I'd have lost the urge to paint... .

after lugging that lot out about, after I'd got set up I'd have lost the will to live.

10-28-2004, 06:11 PM
after lugging that lot out about, after I'd got set up I'd have lost the will to live.

Kitty Wallis
10-28-2004, 06:16 PM
after lugging that lot out about, after I'd got set up I'd have lost the will to live.

Me Too! :D

Pinecone Conniff
10-28-2004, 07:09 PM
If I had my way I would hire a Sherpa from Everest & take everything!! :D
I do use a limited pallette & a full size french easel that really is too heavy for me but I really like it! I am lucky to have found some great places to paint that are not far from the car...but I've been thinking about getting a wagon or a cart.(not quite like Jackies photos though!)
As far as painting from photos...well there is nothing like painting on location!BUT I have a great love of outdoor photography & each shot I take is carefully composed & thought out...my camera equipment is fully manual...I do everything. So for me when I am in the studio using my photos as reference the moment seems to come back for me. And an understanding of photography's limitations & abilities is important!
BUT I have learned so much from painting plein air that my studio work is even better & I truly enjoy BOTH painting experiences!! :)

10-28-2004, 08:04 PM
I keep going back to that set-up to look! It's utterly fascinating in its own way....goodness, the woman has more GREYS than most people have pastels! You have to wonder how she amassed so many...those are HALF sticks, too, folks! Which means she's got the other half of that mess somewhere else! Granted, that's a BIG painting she's workin' on, but holy smokes! One thing about it...she CAN'T have ever been caught out without the perfect tint!

I did a relatively conservative estimate and there has GOT to be at LEAST a thousand sticks there, mostly likely more like 1500 to 2000! HALF STICKS, no less! I'm in total awe!

10-29-2004, 07:32 AM
I did a relatively conservative estimate and there has GOT to be at LEAST a thousand sticks there, mostly likely more like 1500 to 2000! HALF STICKS, no less! I'm in total awe!
lOl, and to think I was worried about my pastel accumulation sickness! :p ...If Jim ever complains I will have to show him this!

BTW, I have not gone plein air as I said I would ...I PROMISE I will do something outside this weekend even if its in my yard while my girls play!