How plein air painting helps your studio work

The more we subject ourselves to painting outdoors the more we’ll learn about pitfalls of painting in general.
Working in your studio is great but the biggest problem is always ‘over-planning’ a painting.
Outside, that won’t be an issue. There’s simply no time, but in the studio we have all the time in the world and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Here’s why:

Imagine you have your paper up, the reference ready on the ipad (or by whatever other means) and you begin your drawing. You’ll draw and draw, erase and re-draw. Pretty soon, all that beautiful energy of line work will be diminished, if not completely gone.
Just like when we paint with pigment, it is so important to have that energy in the work. Erasing, second guessing, changing while half way thorough will all interfere with the original graphite line or brush stroke. Sure, sometimeit doesn’t look right and we do have to use an eraser. That’s ok. That’s not what I mean.

I am talking about the over-planning and overworking that happens so easily when painting in the studio. It happens because we have too much time and we want to make it perfect. The problem is, it won’t be. Quite the opposite will most likely happen. We want to be so perfect that the work will look ‘blah’ in the end. It may even look perfect but unfortunately, boring as well. Who wants something perfect? I’d take a photograph..
Sure, it may be a bigger size but that doesn’t mean it’s better.
Quite often the smaller paintings done in very little time do look fresher, more alive and full of energy than the bigger studio versions.

What to do is the question! I think the solution lies in painting indoors as if you’d paint outdoors. Not exactly rushing it, but nonetheless at a brisk pace with little or no corrections. Let it all flow. Let it happen.
During the preliminary drawing, let the pencil flow across the paper, hardly lifting it. Feel the energy going on the paper! Don’t be a drawing/painting robot.
I heard once that one should never erase the wrong lines. The analogy was getting lost in a snow storm. You need the old tracks in the snow to know that you were wrong and to find the right way…doesn’t fit 100% but has a true ring to it!

To use my painting above as an example: This watercolor is 18by24 inches, done in the studio. I have painted this with the help of my many sketches I did on location and with the aid of a few photographs I took of the scene. It was painted quickly, in less than two hours total. Without having actually painted there, it would have never come out like this!

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8 thoughts on “How plein air painting helps your studio work

  1. cathy belleville

    Your observation about plein aire vs having the time to overwork things in the studio sure rings true with me. I really needed this message right now, as I have a sketch on my drafting table that I’ve been fussing with interminably, and not just jumping in as I should. Tomorrow I will attack. Thank you! (btw, the horses barns at Yosemite are just perfect. I have dust in my nose just looking at it.)

  2. Jody

    You are so right on with this insight. I have a good setup for painting on site and have been doing more and more of that as I have a group of like minded painter buddies. Before all this “plein air” activity, I would sit at my paint table and labor over each attempt. Lately, I have made myself another easle so I can stand like in the field and sling paint. So I’m in the “studio” but working from sketches, small on site work or (dare I admit, the iPad photo). Thanks for another helpful post, which I plan to share.

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