En Plein Air: A Conversation With Camille Przewodek

California landscape painter Camille Przewodek's approach to plein air painting is all about capturing the color of light. She credits her teacher Henry Hensche with opening her eyes to this new way of seeing when she was a student, and now she helps other plein air painters see the light through her straightforward instruction centered on the traditions of Charles Hawthorne's and Henry Hensche's historic Cape School of Art.

Aerial Perspective
by Camille Przewodek, 2007, oil, 11 x 14.
Collection Joan Irvine Smith.

American Artist: Henry Hensche was your greatest mentor and the artist you said changed the way you saw light and color. What were the main tenets of his teaching?

Camille Przewodek: Hensche was a student of Charles Hawthorne and took over the Cape School of Art, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, when Hawthorne died. Hensche had his students paint simple blocks of primary colors outdoors under varying light conditions, which allowed them to focus solely on the color of the light. Another point he espoused was to let nature be your guide. Hensche actually ended up developing the understanding of color beyond even what Hawthorne or Monet did.

AA: Why do you think focusing on how an artist sees is so important, especially as a plein air painter?

CP: As Hawthorne said, “The vision of the artist is the vision to see and the ability to tell the world something that he or she unconsciously thinks about nature.” We live in a time when the pigments and tools for recreating this vision are available to us. The ability to paint the effects of light accurately takes a lifetime of study, and there is no limit to the development of this vision. We as artists have the ability to show the beauty in the mundane.

AA: Why have you decided to make light the focus of your work and the understanding of light the focus of your career? What is it about light in the landscape that draws you?

CP: When I met and studied with Hensche, my life as a painter changed. How often do you take a workshop that alters your whole perception? Where once there were gray shadows, now those shadows were filled with color and light. I knew I was in the presence of greatness when I was with Hensche, and I wanted what he had to offer. It was so honest, unlike any other instruction I had ever received. I became a born-again painter.

AA: Do you consider your approach to painting light similar to or different than that of the French Impressionists?

CP: The French Impressionists were at the forefront of a new way of seeing. They were experimenting with the juxtaposition of color, and their color was broken color. I like the American Impressionists better because they put more emphasis on solid spots of color and form.

AA: Many plein air painters struggle with capturing quickly moving light. What advice do you offer your students on this subject?

CP: Paint fast and efficiently. Hawthorne felt that starts are the most important. After you do enough of them in many different lights, you develop a painting memory. Also, if the light is in and out, have two canvases available so you can change from one painting to the other as the light changes.

AA: You say that you desire to use color to build form and not rely on formulas. What formulaic traps to you often see landscape painters fall into?

CP: I have seen painters use the same formula for all their trees. They put a color wash down and paint on this every time. I try to respond to a subject each time as if it is the first time I have painted it.

Shark Harbor Surf
by Camille Przewodek, 2000, oil, 12 x 16.
Private collection.

AA: You are a resident of California, but you paint en plein air throughout the country and abroad. What locations do you admire most for their quality of light?

CP: I love the difference of each geographical place. For instance, I don’t paint in the desert a lot, so I try to spend some time there to better understand how the sand particles affect the color of the light. A location like that is very different than a place like Laguna Beach, for instance, which has a very blue light because of all the moisture in the air. I like to paint in California because you can be en plein air year-round with the wonderful weather, but I also do a lot of traveling to other areas. Provincetown, Massachusetts, is one of my favorite travel destinations for plein air painting.

AA: What is your favorite time and type of day to paint?

CP: I paint all lights. When I was in Laguna Beach one year doing the invitational plein air event, we had a lot of gray days. Many artists had never painted a gray day. I was in heaven because I love gray days and find a lot of color in them. I don’t think you should limit yourself. I even work in the middle of the day to try to paint the difference between early-morning, midday, and late-afternoon light.

AA: Can you recall a plein air-painting experience in which you encountered an extraordinary lighting situation? How did you handle it?

CP: Painting the hills of La Quinta, California. Normally, early-morning light is very pink, but those hills were orange in the morning. If I had followed a theory I wouldn’t have gotten the color right. People would look at my mountain paintings and comment that they could tell those were La Quinta hills.

AA: If you had to give one piece of advice to a novice plein air painter looking to understand and accurately paint light in the landscape, what would you say?

CP: Get good instruction. Show me a good painter, and I guarantee he or she had good teachers. Don’t just accept a teacher that tells you to just express yourself. Also, under every good painting is a good abstract painting. When I start, the first note of color is the key to the whole painting. I cover the canvas quickly, and then I can determine whether or not my colors are accurate.

For more information on Camille Przewodek, including upcoming workshops, visit her website at www.przewodek.com.


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Plein Air Painting Blog
Allison Malafronte

About Allison Malafronte

Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist magazines, and the project editor of  Plein Air Painting and Workshop With the Masters magazines. She is also the creative manager of the Weekend With the Masters Workshop & Conference (www.aamastersweekend.com) which was launched in 2009 and is now in its third year. She is author of the Art for Thought column in American Artist magazine (also on the Artist Daily site under The Artist's Life blog) and the 2008-2010 Plein Air blogs on Artist Daily. 

One thought on “En Plein Air: A Conversation With Camille Przewodek

  1. Since the article in American Artist December 2002 on her method of working, it makes a lot of sense to me and I like her work – very artistic and true her shadows are more truthful.