Plein Air painting – why do it?

There has been a strong move back to painting on location in the last couple of years. Many painters do almost nothing else, so 90 percent of their work is done outside. Why would anybody want to subject themselves repeatedly to painting in the heat, cold, wind, surrounded by flies, passers-by with lots of questions and get sun stroke? Why not just take pictures and paint in the comfort of the studio?

The answer is obvious, but also more complex than it seems. Cameras record a place but don’t do it very accurately. Values are usually off but also the subtle color relationships within the subject matter are not captured well. Our senses are just so much more keen than a mechanical or digital ‘thing’.
Unless we do a completely value based painting, it’s important to pick up on all the subtle color nuances that the camera can’t see.It’s up to the artist to interpret them in their own way, put their own spin on it and turn it into art.
It’s a very different experience to be on location as oppose to just go by a picture of it. I think painting outside will ultimately improve an artists studio work as well.

Having said all that, I personally think painting outside should only be one part of what an artist does. The studio work is at least equally important! In the studio, working from a plein air sketch is invaluable. You can attempt a bigger painting and while working, the memory of the place will come flooding in and go into the studio piece as well. Ideally, that’s what should happen.

I am trying to divide my painting time into 30% outside and 70% inside. For me, a perfect balance

When painting outside, one of the worst distractions are people who linger to watch and ask me lots of questions, constantly reiterating that they ‘do not intent to disturb me’. Luckily, most people are great. I have no problem with someone watching me, just don’t strike up a lengthy conversation. I am here to paint!
We had a new one the other day. Unprecedented. While painting in a small park near the ocean at Morro Bay, some guy came up and asked us if we knew why the restrooms are locked. My painting buddy looked at him and actually answered that he doesn’t know. I pretended I am deeply involved in painting but had to really hold myself back and not say something rude!
It never ceases to amaze me what questions you get! We couldn’t believe it, but it also made for comic relieve once he had sauntered off.

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11 thoughts on “Plein Air painting – why do it?

  1. Ron Croci

    In Hawaii where I paint frequently I had a meth crazed local guy come up to the easel and try to take the painting. After we scuffled a bit he left, glaring over his shoulder “I’m going to get my “bruddahs” and kill you.” I then left.
    While painting in a crowded open air market in Morocco a huge Berber came up to me and pinned me against the wall asking “Eh, you make money at thees, huh do you.” I was done any way, said no and left.
    I love painting in crowded, insecure places, however there is a possible price to pay.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Man, that’s nuts! I’ve a friend who had a similar experience painting in Buenos Aires. Some nutball was threating them, so they had to bolt as quickly as possible. Makes the guy who’s asking stupid questions pretty manageable…

  2. Elinor

    I really do love your outdoor scenes. The ones in the “Forgotten America” series on your website, and also the “Texas” series just really seem to capture the mood.
    I have extremely little patience for even trying to create anything remotely close to this. No talent.
    Choosing instead to “create” through working with animals. Not sure if it’s working – but somehow the mood in a few of your pictures really rhymes with the mood at my little farm šŸ™‚
    Like it!

    1. frankeber Post author

      It’s very nice to read that you enjoy looking at my work! I have to confess that I do go read through your blog often. Trying to learn about horses but also looking at the beautiful photographs!
      You definitely create and maybe even heal by working with your animals. Painting does take patience and lots of talent which I was born with. I’ve been at it for a long, long time. It also takes an incredible amount of discipline and commitment. Just like working with horses I would imagine! Thank you.

      1. Elinor

        I’m thrilled to have you reading my blog šŸ™‚ Thought about your painting when we saw another Ghost town up north from here. Drawing a blank on the name right now, but it’s at high altitude and had several thousands of inhabitants at one point, with churches, a bank, school, and fire station. The population quickly dwindled to a few hundred over a couple of years, and then it got abandoned.
        The photo images were eerie, and I could easily see you enjoying painting up there šŸ™‚ – Patiently…

      2. frankeber Post author

        Thanks for your comment! Well let me know the name of the town if it comes back to you. Places like that make for excellent subject matter and I am always on the look-out. I’d like to paint more dilapidated buildings etc to add to my Forgotten America series. There are many ‘good’ ones all over Oregon as well..

      3. Elinor

        OK, it’s Bodie, CA.
        Not sure it has enough vegetation to be worthwhile painting, but buildings galore, and a shady past.
        To make matters more extreme, it is also a weird little place with some of California’s roughest climates…
        It can reach 125F in summer and negative – 50F in the winter. Not sure how that’s even possible.

      4. Elinor

        OK, it’s Bodie, CA.
        Not sure it has enough vegetation to be worthwhile painting, but buildings galore, and a shady past.
        To make matters more extreme, it is also a weird little place with some of California’s roughest climates…
        It can reach 125F in summer and negative – 50F in the winter. Not sure how that’s even possible…

      5. frankeber Post author

        Ah, I’ve been there. Yes, very unfriendly climate. Ghost town from back when CA had the gold rush, way old..
        Nonetheless an interesting place. There’s another one on the eastern side of the Sierras called Keeler, real depressing and a similar climate. thanks for getting back to me!

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