Plein air painting often requires a Herculean effort on the part
of the artist. It can't be taught in a studio. It must be experienced
first-hand to be fully appreciated. All the senses and faculties must be fully
engaged, especially curiosity. One cannot come to this job with any
preconceived notion of what might come of the effort. Nor is it a good idea to
develop and apply a particular "technique" suitable for all
occasions. Doing that reduces nature to a mundane thing, easily described and dispatched.
The world already has a sufficient supply of formulaic plein air look-alikes.
What is needed in art is Truth - the personal truth gained from making oneself
vulnerable and open to experience. Knowledge gained from sincere effort is
invested with the power of that personal experience. The searching for
expression and the struggle to make those intimate insights concrete always
shows up in the paint.
|Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood
by John Singer Sargent, oil painting.
We believe that to learn and really grow from our
experiences in the outdoors, we must approach our subject with an attitude of a
humble student who is willing and eager to be shown something new each day.
Fear of failure is overwhelmed by curiosity and the tantalizing aspect of
discovery. One of the best descriptions of the requirements for painting
outdoors was written by our friend Robert Genn:
Looking is opening your mind to
Seeing is replacing what you know
with what you see.
Mixing is the knowledgeable
confluence of pigments.
Testing is comparing your
preparations with the truth.
Adjusting is the will to fix your
Today, plein air workshops abound - we teach some of
them - offering up the secrets of picturing the world to the eager student. We
can teach colors, values, edges composition and the like. We can teach a method
for going about making a painting. The truth is, though, that no one can teach
anyone how to truly see what is in front of them or how they should feel about
that subject. Seeing is a learning process which takes time and practice. It is
delightfully troublesome, and after painting outdoors for over 30 years, we are
constantly surprised by how often nature reveals how much we still don't know.
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