It was so great to see so many out to the first MAA Plein Air event at the Dickinson Mill in Manotick - Charlie
The Joys of Plein-air Painting by Charlie Spratt, July 2010, revised June 2019
For someone just starting out painting plein air, the experience can be intimidating. I remember the time and place of my first try, well. But with time and patience, it can be rewarding. Here’s some of the reasons why I look forward to painting outside every time I can.
When I paint outdoors my goal is always to express with a paintbrush something about the landscape that I can relate to, as opposed to working from a photograph or other media. When I am outside, my eyes record hundreds of images. I look up into the sky and sense the dark branches against moving clouds, I look down into the shadows at my feet and as my eyes adjust to the dark, I see saturated colour and the result is an impression. To paraphrase my artist friend, Virginia Trieloff, “What the eye perceives and the mind beholds are two different things”.
When I find a location I like, I take the time to look all around, I squint to see patterns and values and think about what I’d like to express in a painting. As I begin to analyze my thoughts, I move details around, eliminating some, changing others until a plan unfolds - a sketch book is helpful. Once I have a composition worked out, I get out my paints and become completely absorbed in painting and time literally flies by.
Plein-air paintings aren’t always successful. There are, in fact, many failures: the result of so many elements from which to choose and any number of distractions - some of which make great stories! But often enough, in the two to three hours available while the light is steady, I get a painting that speaks about the thoughts and feelings I experience from being there. Without exception my plein-air paintings, good or bad, have more life and vitality than any photographic record I could take. That is why I keep returning to the outdoors with my paints.
Back to my studio I assess the work. I scrape off the bugs, decide if a different size canvas would work better, taking particular care to preserve the impression that I recorded outdoors, no matter how messy or incomplete the work. I don’t believe that art is so much about detail as it is about self-expression. Whether the painting is good or not, time will tell.
By organizing MAA paint-outs each Thursday morning, with the help of my friends, I hope that others will try the ‘Plein Air’ experience and that through time and practice they too may come to enjoy it as much as I do. Even after 40 years!
Good Luck and Happy painting!
p.s. It’s always more enjoyable, and safer, to paint with other like-minded artists. Here are several groups that I paint with:
The Manotick Art Association (MAA), the East Central Ont. Art Assoc. (ECOAA), the newly formed North Grenville Artist Guild (NGAG) and Plein Air Ensemble. (PAE)