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The art of Plein air painting

Plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape. The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists. Their desire to paint light and its changing, ephemeral qualities, coupled with the creation of transportable paint tubes and the box easel—the precursor to the plein air easels of today—allowed artists the freedom to paint “en plein air,” which is the French expression for “in the open air.”

Carl Sandburg Goat barns; 6 x 8 in., Oil on Panel

Sketches allow painters to improve the overall design of a painting and quickly capture color notes in the landscape. A plein air painter can also use photographs to help design a painting, though they usually come into play after the artist has left the outdoor painting site for the comforts of the studio. An artist often utilizes photographs to capture details—like the particular texture of grass or the shape of a river bend—but most painters stay away from using photographs for color and value indicators.

Before I being painting I always snap some photos of my scene in case I can't finish the painting outside. (Given the limitations of a camera in capturing true colors, my plein air painting will be used closely as the colors I experienced). As you can see, I will need much more practice in capturing the true colors.

Today, plein air painting is a flourishing trend in our art world. Artists come together for “paint out” excursions, workshops devoted to the practice occur all year-round and coast to coast, and landscape painters are finding that plein air painting is as rewarding and powerful an experience as it was for the first plein air painters all those years ago. Western North Carolina plein air group meets on certain Thursdays, but I have not had a chance to paint with them (Hoping too in the future).

I have some additional posts that I hope to get too soon.


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