Do I have to finish my painting on site for it to be classed as en plein air? When is a plein air piece 'en plein air' and when does it become a studio piece?
I reckon if a work is substantially created on location, let's say 95%, then it is an en plein air painting. To add a couple of additional marks when you return to your studio does not make your painting/sketch a studio piece, it just means you know how to finish a painting or you had to pack up quick to get away from the approaching storm. At the end of the day it really only matters if you are entering en plein air competitions and then you'll be on site in the thick of it.
It seems there are too many rules and regulations about art and creating, it seems to me that most of these 'rules' are handed to us from either 150 years ago or by some 'expert' who is not a painter! To be a creative is to not be bound by other people's 'rules'.
For example, for me, it does not make sense to go back to the same place for several days running to complete a painting - I certainly would not be able to do that in NZ (4 seasons in one day - and fairly unpredictable unless mid-winter and then you know it's going to be rainy or stormy!). Further, I want to push my skill as a watercolour painter and develop my creativity and thinking, watercolour is fast and immediate, i want to take advantage of that while I can.
For me, plein air is all about getting to know a scene/subject, understanding it's essence and getting a sketch down and dirty as quick as possible. I give myself 1.5 hours - after this time, light and atmospheric conditions have changed substantially and only provide a new set of facts that are likely irrelevant to my current work. My plein air sketches provide me with detailed notes so I can create a finessed studio painting, sometimes my plein air works are good enough to sell, sometimes not - so be it - do it again!
My methodology is to scope out the scene, sit and observe the light and shapes from my selected spot, create/design a couple of thumbnail value sketches, take a mental snapshot and get stuck in. A painting buddy pointed out to me recently that I don't refer to the actual scene very much after that except for a few detail reminders. For me it's all about the essence of the scene, and certainly, sometimes I wonder who made me paint in that particular locale - it's all their fault!! :)
Please remember these are 'rules' i have set for my myself and you don't have to follow them blindly - they might not work for you/your current style/medium/whatever. I think this is where students get caught up, rule #10181614172930 works for X and X swears by this rule and may insist their students follow it too (when a tutor start telling their students there is only one way and it's their way or the highway, I choose the highway!) Remember, there are no magic bullets - you might have to forge on and create your own methodologies - experiment and have fun!!
ciao bei pittori xx
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There’s nothing easy about painting watercolour en plein air but, for me, it is an exhilarating and fun experience.
My early attempts, however, were difficult and my paintings absolutely atrocious! It seemed to take me forever to get to grips with this new style of painting in the great outdoors.
Without realising, I was faithfully following the 80/20 rule, 80% observation 20% drawing /painting. Later it dawned on me this rule does not apply to painting watercolour en plein air - I was trying to follow a guideline for the constant situation of studio/observational drawing from life.
When painting in the field, from the time you select your subject to your end-game, the painter has about 1-1.5 hours, 2 hours at most, to capture the subject before light and atmospheric conditions change too much. No mean feat but, if you practice, you will improve every time.
Another element to consider is the subject. My first attempts at painting en plein air were with groups of artists who love painting landscapes. For me, it was a big problem. Although I love good quality landscape paintings, I’m not interested in painting them myself. I’m a city girl afterall, I’m attuned to light and shadows bouncing around architecture and the people who inhabit amazing spaces. Just think of Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) and you'll have hit your nail on the head!
I often tell my students to slow their painting process down but in the case of painting watercolour en plein air, I’m going to contradict myself and tell you to speed up! Speed up so you catch the light and changing conditions. Give yourself 5 minutes, and only 5 minutes, to take photos and sketch 1 or 2 value thumbnails and most importantly, take a mental snapshot. Make your memory work for you and, even if you think your result is "wrong", your work will be formed of the essence of your subject. Perfetto!! What a great excuse to go out and paint it again!! Your next work at the same scene will include different features and details and the next different again.
My personal strategy is to map the subject onto my watercolour paper with a 5 minute sketch and then not refer to the actual scene again. I am painting my interpretation of the scene not a photograph. Changing light and shadows become mighty confusing and create confusing paintings.
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Amanda Brett Watercolour Artist
Paintbox Tips, thoughts, scribblings and doodles on art, my life as an artist, travels and musings!! www.amandabrett.net