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, en 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, 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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Amanda Brett Watercolour Artist
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