As I was preparing for a recent plein air painting trip, this guest post submission caught my eye. Painter, Martin Banks reflects on his experiences of working from nature, and the challenges of painting en plein air.
Working From Nature en Plein Air
Working from nature is important for the artist in a number of ways. It beats working from photos hands down, although I have to say there is a role for the photograph too.
What’s the point of working from nature, dragging all your equipment out with you just to sit out in the heat or cold, and expose your art to criticism to any passer-by? There always seems to be someone walking a dog, or someone who stops to talk or interrupts your painting by making you feel self-conscious.
Well, I didn’t say it was easy. Let’s start by accentuating the positives, and then we’ll look at the apparent negatives.
First of all, when you go out in the big wide world of Mother Nature, you have the full “experience” of this encounter with the environment. The sounds, smells and movement of the world around you do actually filter through into the work. When talking about his work, the Scottish landscape painter, Duncan Shanks talks of how he tries to capture the movement of clouds and rain and the changing light as it happens.
This gives his work a dynamism, which is convincing and true. He paints the same area of land over and over again and but the paintings are never repetitive. On the contrary, they are alive and there is always something new to discover in them. Duncan makes hundreds of quick sketches that he later fuses into one painting.
You also have to rely and improve on your own skills. Finding the right spot to paint from all the information overload isn’t easy, but is does get easier as you begin to find what subjects and motifs suit you.
This is valuable information. It’s a workout for the eyes. You develop a sense of composition. When working from photos, especially other peoples photos, you don’t have that practice; it’s already been done. You also see much more of the detail that is missing from even good photos.
So what about the negatives?
Sitting sketching in the cold is invigorating and forces you to prioritise what is important. Adverse weather conditions make you think more quickly and work faster, giving your work an urgency that it might not otherwise have. You remain fully concentrated because, now that you’re here, you want to make the most of things but not hang about.
What about those pesky passers-by?
People are always polite and try not to disturb you. If they’re very interested in art themselves they may strike up a conversation. This happened to me once when I was painting in the lovely town of Oban in Scotland. An old gentleman came along and started talking and, before I knew it, I was sitting in his kitchen (he lived next to where I was working) drinking tea and eating biscuits with he and his wife, discussing art and education.
Then, once you’ve finished working outside it can be useful to take a couple of photographs for reference later…just in case.
Thank you Martin Banks for sharing such an insightful post!
If you are interested in learning more about the Plein Air Convention, please view the video below.
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