“Plein air” is a term meaning “in the open air.” These small studies are done outside, on location in nature’s light and can require some special equipment. Most accomplished artists insist that the only way to learn to paint is from real life (not from photographs), including both indoor still life under artificial light and outside in natural light. What we paint is actually light in the form of color shapes, not “things” or objects, but shapes of color that when brought together form a representation.
Plein air painting is very difficult but absolutely thrilling. The artist faces constant challenges dealing with ever-changing weather conditions and the relentless movement of the sun as it races across the heavens literally shifting shadows by the second! These studies must be done quickly and decisively. This is no place for the faint of heart! Bold, accurate decisions must be made fearlessly. Add to that bugs, sunburn, exhaustion (from standing at an easel for 4 hours at a time), and the ubiquitous “art critique” who is always ready to tell you what is wrong with your painting, and at times it can seem almost impossible! And yet the pay off is priceless. Nothing will improve your skills more or more quickly than painting outdoors from real life. Add to that the absolute thrill and enjoyment of painting just for the fun of it and you have a formula for an obsession--an “OCD”... “Obsessive Compulsive Delight!” For me it is a spiritual experience. I never feel closer to God than when I am outdoors in His creation, cooperating with Him in creating representations of His handiwork, “in a mirror dimly....” Each time I pray for His assistance and I feel the smile of Heaven.
Plein air studies are meant to be just that, a “study.” They are usually small in size, 6” x 8” up to 9” x 12.” They are not meant to be completed paintings or “pretty pictures.” Instead they are meant to be practice, much like a concert pianist would practice scales or a golfer would hit practice shots on the driving range. And yet sometimes they come out as very nice, beautiful paintings, almost by accident. The main goal is to learn to see the big shapes of light and color as it really is in nature. Plein Air paintings have a certain quality of authenticity, and a unique way of capturing an impression, a moment in time.
"As an artist, I merely plagiarize God's work!"
Here are some plein air studies I have done over the years: