Plein air painting,
- where to start?
Painting from life, from direct observation is the best way to learn. In class we usually paint from still life set ups where value and color can be examined, light logic understood and compositional ideas hammered out. This can be done in the landscape but it is a lot harder. Many a happy studio painter can become overwhelmed and stymied when confronted by the great out doors. So can we get the best of both worlds?
Our class studio has 2 large windows that we use as big viewers, and a starting point for landscape work. Here are 2 simple compositions as seen thru those windows. The sketch at top shows a tree defining the foreground, a middle ground area at some distance, which is a band of trees and houses, and a background of mountains. Very simple and one was done at noon, the other early evening. It is about the tree.
The lower sketch combines the foreground and middle ground into one shape and is about the evening sky in the background.
The main idea here is to start with a very simple view, translate it into a simple composition and paint it many times. The largest of these is only 8"x 10" and in class we limit the time to one painting per hour. It is not about being fast, it is about keeping it simple so that you can learn to communicate, through observation the nuances of that landscape.
Is the great out doors a little daunting? Find a window view, sketch a reasonable composition (something as simple as: foreground middle ground, background) and paint it at all times of day and in every weather.
We painted clouds in our window last week and on the phone today, one of my students told me how she has been looking at clouds, seeing characteristics she had never noticed before. Wow!
Go find your window of opportunity!