Taking That Leap of Faith

Artists who step outside their studios take a leap of faith. When you determine that you are ready to create a plein air painting, you take a chance with lighting, composition, color, and time. All of these are variables that you need to contend with to get your outdoor painting right.

Artist Robin Purcell takes that leap of faith and has been richly rewarded with her plein air watercolor art. Painting outside, she doesn’t shoehorn what she finds into what she wants to paint. Instead, she makes magic with what she finds, and this is key to an enjoyable and rewarding plein air painting experience.

Summer Oak by Robin Purcell, watercolor painting, 10 x 12.
Summer Oak by Robin Purcell, watercolor painting, 10 x 12.

For example, in Purcell’s plein air painting Summer Oak, the artist observes a scorching hot afternoon when the sun is at its highest, and she sees how the reflected light turns the top leaves of an oak tree deep orange, while its lower branches remain a verdant green. When she walks above a field of wildflowers that still have lush color to them but are surrounded by woody purples and browns of nearby scrub trees, she jumps right in and makes the most of it.

Wild at Heart by Robin Purcell, watercolor painting, 14 x 14.
Wild at Heart by Robin Purcell, watercolor painting, 14 x 14.

Painting outdoors can be a panacea if you are feeling constricted and uninspired in the studio, but I remind myself that taking those steps outside means you are playing by Mother Nature’s rules. That’s more than OK with me, but you have to be open and not take those small and simple gifts of beauty that you see around you for granted. They’re the ones that need painting most!

But before I get too ahead of myself on the beauty of the plein air approach, I remind myself that painting is not only a leap of faith; it is also a skill-based enterprise. One of the best places to get foundational painting techniques–as well as to learn more advanced methods for plein air watercolor painting–is from an artist-instructor whose work you admire. An artist that fits the bill is Stephen Quiller and his DVD, Water Media Foundation for the Painter is a stellar resource for mastering watercolor techniques and the 8 hours of instruction (yep!) will open your eyes to even greater possibilities with the medium. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “Taking That Leap of Faith

  1. I took the leap of faith this past summer and did some plain air watercolor painting and it was a glorious experience. Some tips are: Always wear a hat or cap or a vissor. Don’t forget the bug repellent and buy a clip on umbrella, not for you but to put shade on your paper because of the glare. Always bring your camera in case the light changes before you complete your study. I usually put finishing touches on it in the studio.
    Chris Greene