Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Plein Air Paintings

                                               Some Thoughts on Plein Air Painting

I painted my first 'Plein Air' painting in 1973. I grew up in Southern California and headed down to Laguna Beach with a painter friend, set up on the rocks, and painted the ocean. It was a great experience and my first taste of painting outdoors. I had never heard the term 'Plein Air', we called it painting on location and I've continued the process ever since. For me nature has always been the inspiration and teacher. Up to that point I had studied the great works of historical painters, particularly the 19th century landscape and figure painters, mostly the French Impressionists. I painted several copies and then my teacher at the community college I attended suggested I take what I had gained from the copies and head outdoors to paint what I see. I think that is one of the hardest things for painters to do, let go of our influences and the romance we have with the great painters from the past, and then look with our own eyes and sensibilities at nature. Learn to trust what you are seeing with your own eyes and mind, and put down that color, shape and tone as it appears to you. I think that is the start of finding ones own voice and the way to approach nature with honest eyes. I truly believe nature holds all the keys to knowledge. As painters if we really look to and at nature, I think we can find the solutions and guidance to do beautiful works. I try to be open to what I'm seeing, to trust what I see. We are not copying nature, but all the information is there. Nature has the most exquisite colors and tones. Great composition is everywhere. Relationships are everywhere. I don't think we need to manipulate much in order to make beautiful paintings. Paintings with depth and meaning, something other people can see that they may miss when looking at nature. We can be the eyes to this stunning world of seeing.

Most of the works below were painted over the past couple of years, all on location. I work outdoors small and large. I love the energy of trying to complete a good work in one go, but I also love taking the painting back into the field day after day, sometimes waiting for the season to return the following year. Even though each day with the same light at the same time is never going to be the same, I like the changes and the risk involved with working a painting over several sittings. It becomes a series of moments rather than the one shot you have on any giving day, The painting below, June 2012, I would have never seen the sky I painted had I only spent one afternoon on the site. It is a combination of skies I saw over a period of four sittings. It was composed as the painting progressed. I think only painting one shot paintings, which I do a lot of and find thrilling, one can fall into a formula of methods and ideas on how to make a painting work. We learn how to paint, but we should always try to push ourselves beyond what we know.

Sometimes the work is completed outdoors but, more times than not, each work needs attention in the studio. One needs to look at the work as a painting, away from nature and the location painted. I may spend less than a half hour or hours doing studio work on a painting and even taking it back out on location years later. I think sometimes the more we know the more difficult painting becomes, the more we want out of ourselves. It's a great life, to art and painting!

June 2012
oil on paper 14x20

Winter Pond
oil on linen 24x40

Green Hills, Loleta
oil on linen 18x30

Painting Sardine Lake
oil on panel 12x12

Salmon Lake
oil on panel 12x16

Garden, Afternoon Sun
oil on linen 24x30

Valley Fog, Morning Light
oil on paper 11x15

Baker Beach, Low Tide
oil on linen 24x32

Apple Tree Shadows
oil on linen 24x30

Garden Prayer
oil on linen 30x40

January Morning, Loleta
oil on linen 20x40

Lake Loleta
oil on linen 24x36

North coast, Morning Light
oil on linen 36x60

Watering the Garden
oil on linen 30x40

Spring Showers
oil on linen 30x40

Painting Indian Beach
oil on panel 12x16

September Morning
oil on linen36x54

Boats, Afternoon Light
oil on paper 8x12

Fishing Boats
oil on paper 8x12

Tending the Garden
oil on linen 30x40

Summer Reading
oil on linen 24x30