Monday, April 01, 2013
Why plein air...? Why not just paint in the studio?
The question often is why paint? Is it to produce a work that sells? Is it to liberate the heart and nurture joy, thanksgiving? To validate oneself?
Okay, but then why paint Plein air? As a vogue movement, plein air can lead to reputation, fine work, marketing and sales opportunity...but so often our work has to validate and justify the brush in hand, doesn't it seem to be so?
The opportunity to work long careful work in studio naturally tends toward wanting to share, lead to sales, etc., sitting in the interiors, mindful of interruptions, children fighting, dinner being made, phone calls. But..discipline and sticktoitiveness leads to eventual polished work.
My exodus outdoors near 20 years ago now was revolutionary, shocking. For one...away from the bias and limitation of a camera doing the seeing for me, my eyes were allowed to see real time. The photograph is often the landscape painter's reference, and though digital photography has greatly improved along with Photoshops capabilities to enhance...there is nothing quite like the eyes being able to see, and the mind/spirit's state of inquiry.
The bias of the photograph pushing for light causes darks to darken, even turn black. Worse is its treatment of shadows...and outdoors you realize there is reflected light, bounced light...not just direct light. You see an amazing thing...COLOR in the shadows, and thus your natural means to utilize broader forms of contrast to develop your paintings. Not just value contrasts, but color...color temperatures enhancing and giving new power for emphasis.
but over the years...as one's mind and spirit accustom and routine themselves to this practice painting outdoors...you adapt some of the benefits and reasons for being outdoors that might be compared to why people kayak...why people hike...why people bicycle...fish...camp...on and on. It reconnects you to the outdoors.
there is a great book many educators have read from Dr. Richard Louv..."Last Child in the Woods "
Last Child in the Woods
or "saving our children from nature deficit disorder."
Well worth the time...and we can see from many studies that a number of building maladies is come of our modern habits of staying indoors, infrequenting recreation, exploration...and one is lacking the fostering of imagination. Even some connections to autism, etc.,
Louv has a book out I mean to get too for adults as well...but we outdoors painting become greatly attuned to nature ,the world around us. Now...if paintings about representing what it is we love...what has meaning to us, this presence of painting outdoors amongst nature will find to have effect in our work. The essentiality will with mastery come thru individualized by your compulsion to paint.
While some see the "unfinished" look of plein air as a deficit or negative, in actuality the practice is teaching you to recognize the absolute essential reason for painting. The novice, taking their studio practice to the field for the first time very often gets an effort home and wonders what it ever was that caught their eye to begin with. This is because in studio we can long study a picture...and entertain to show just how good we are by putting in as much as possible and with every detail.
Outdoors...you have a limited amount of light, and the inclination to "report" what you see will find yourself becoming lost and overwhelmed very quickly!
The novice sets up...and tries to paint everything. The master sets up and asks himself what NOT to paint.
It has been said that where everything is shouting, nothing gets heard...so coming to master plein air means quickly getting in touch with what has really and truly resounded with your artistic aesthetic inclinations. It calls for quick determinations and discipline, and an acute honed awareness that paintings work for reasons paintings work.
Schooling yourself thru the rigors of plein air will help you interpret photographs with greater command of what makes for good paintings. It actually will make painting instudio more meaningful and fun, to take photographs you know are but half-truths, and interject the culminations of experience you have gained by time observing and painting outdoors. It should make you a better painter.
There are some fine fine studio painters that have not painted outdoors, but years of trial, errors...to arrive, and still many IMO miss a bit of the spark that feels more like this person has been there. The life of the place.
Lastly...I have come too to understand what defines "realism" by other terms.
In the old wildlife art years of the 80's-90's...and competitions, it was paint every feather, wings frozen in air. However, painting outdoors...your painting proceeds over a duration of events happening as you stand there. Not a frozen moment caught in a picture...but clouds existing not just now, but what is to come in five minutes from now. Trees moving. Birds flying, grasses under influence of winds, water choppy...on and on. In other words what you are also finding exists as a subject to be painted is the presence of TIME...
Time exists only frozen in a picture.
Reminds me of viewing a corpse in a funeral home...not to be disrespectful, but our loved one (while so many respond to the cosmetics and remark how they look just like they are sleeping), is laying there. While we are making closure...this really is not the person we know, and frozen, still...is not the picture in our mind. This now...years after painting plein air, is how reliance on photographs in studio feels if it comes down to just copying. It is but a corpse of life...
Painting on location though...is dealing with a living thing...which is not going to conveniently hold to our preferences. TIME...and all that transpires in that window of opportunity we paint, enters our sphere of comfort...like somebody getting too close. We have to deal with it. I always find myself at some point of the painting recognizing a knot building in my stomach. Such tells me that the success of the painting is at that moment pivotal. I have to press in and on...and doubts love to jump at you at such a moment, and I defer to many many times before that same feeling overcome with a successful work.
I never experienced such instudio. At worst...only a decision to put the brush down for a time being, and return at a more convenient time to work things thru. Rarely...is there a convenient time outdoors, because like a living person walking, breathing...nature plays by its own rules, its own spontaneity. And while a photograph captures one moment...and we are aware it was a lucky moment, or not as good as we wished the moment before we took the picture...the whole moment standing there painting carries optimism, opportunity. We are very much aware at precisely such a time just how alive and in the moment we are!!! :)