Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Plein Air painting is so damn hard.

It is pretty safe to say that I am primarily a studio painter.

In some ways this developed almost by accident. I was trained indoors. My easel was heavy and didn't lend itself well to being lugged around outside; and the people I painted with were, generally speaking, not strong enough painters to feel comfortable working out in the open air.

As my painting skilled developed and my style began to show itself, the subjects I chose just lent themselves well to studio painting. I was trained with a mind toward a very simplistic set-up and method. I didn't know anything about Munsel notation, color strings, split compliments or the use of any brushes other than hog's hair.

I began experimenting with materials. I am a huge believer in experimentation. But like any good scientist experimentation required a control. In order to fairly judge the strengths and weaknesses on any particular support, medium, paint or brush, you have be able to reproduce the results. In essence, gaining mastery over something is the ability to control every aspect of a field of knowledge and get every facet to behave in a predicable way.

Essentially, mastery of painting is an exercise in making paint behave predictably.

But painting outside is an entirely different creature. Not only is there more information, there more distractions, more decisions, more editing, more weather and possibly most frustrating of all; more light.

Cathedral Park

St John's Bridge at Cathedral Park 11" x 14"

That doesn't mean that it always turns out bad. In fact, I have gotten some very good paintings from trips around Portland and have probably sold as many plein-air paintings as I have studio paintings. What I haven't been able to do however, is create good paintings consistently. As I said, the light drives me, how shall I say? Ah yes.... Bat-shit crazy. While the changing light is one thing, what really drives me up the wall is that the light outside is so much stronger than the light inside. Just to be scientific about it direct sunlight has a light measurement of 32,000 - 130,00 lux. The light inside? 50-60 lux, maybe 80 in the bathroom.

This frustrates the hell out of me particularly because what you see isn't what you necessarily end up with.

It's sort of like going out on a date. It's really nice, the candlelight is enchanting, there's soft music your digging the scene and then when you get back to your house you realize it's not that hot redhead from the office, it's OMG your cousin Kenny! And he hasn't showered! Or maybe it is that hot redhead from the office. You can never be sure till you get it home.

I am used to being able to control nearly all the aspects of painting from the materials I use, to the lighting and composition. painting outside doesn't grant you the same liberties that working in the studio does.

All in all, I'm not breaking up with plein-air but we are not currently on speaking terms.


1 comment:

  1. Is that why I turned into your cousin Kenny when I got home? Not cool man.