Advantages and Disadvantages of Plain Air Painting

A famous hyperrealist was holding a workshop in my city last week. When talking about picturing outdoor subjects he said that plain air painting was obsolete – a camera captures every moment with ease and preserves it unchanged for many years.

I’m not so sure about that.

Four Reasons to Paint Outdoors

Photos don’t smell (of course, if you didn’t have shed some coffee on a printed one). They cannot sound and move. Nature engages our emotions giving us the great pleasure of feeling alive. The unique experience of involvement provides us guaranteed access to the mystery that is called ‘inspiration’.

A tangible benefit to working away from a comfortable studio is the ability to find the true colors and the most accurate shapes of the scene you like. Alas, even very expensive cameras misrepresent light and shadow. Painting next to a river or in a meadow, you compare the gentlest tints to each other all the time and translate your own on-the-spot perception. It’s the same with volume. The world is 3 dimensional as against flat photographic references.

Plain air working may be challenging, but herein lies its captivation. That resembles an exciting game: hunt prey and catch it! chop-chop – the sun is going down!

After all, the type of painting allows you to have a nice time enjoying camaraderie. I think you won’t have a problem looking for a ‘support team’. Create a public event on Facebook, and at least a couple of artists will join. Maybe, they turn out to be more skilled than you are and offer you useful adviceJust making acquaintances is a good thing as well.

Three Arguments Against

Unlike artists who are sitting in the studio, landscape hunters have to reckon with vagaries of weather.

Imagine you had been walking around a forest for two hours and have finally found a beautiful place to paint. You are setting up a tripod, opening paint boxes…  Suddenly it’s starting to rain. The day has been wasted.

Well, rain could be predicted – there are more or less correct weather reports, but what about such problem (one of the biggest problems for every artist!) as changes in the light? A little cloud appears, and a bright, vibrant scene is getting monotone.

The troubles make you work quicker than you are accustomed to, grossly simplify contours. On the other hand, such heavy practice contributes to developing your style.

People often consider that plein air painting is time-consuming. And the worst part is that a lot of time is spent on packing stuff.

The artists often going out usually keep their basic art kit ready.

In addition to brushes and tubes, you should bring your sense of humor along. Passers-by just love to engage artists in some talk. They want to know everything: who are you, what are you painting, why the white snow on your canvas is blue…

Once my friend and I tried working next to a seafront on a sunny Sunday morning. It was awful! Holidaymakers stood around us like a wall, we were hardly able to see the sea. However, when I was sketching an old oak in the country, and the air temperature was about -5 °C, nobody wanted to ask me a silly question. The big tree looks powerful and pitiful at the same time. I admire it and didn’t feel cold.

Plain air painting hasn’t died. Four pros are more than three contras and the contras aren’t insurmountable, but that’s not the point.

A human being needs to be in contact with real nature, especially if he or she is an artist.

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Natalia Usanova
I am a poet and an amateur artist. A few years ago, it seemed to me creating works of art is a much more important occupation than reading books, visiting galleries, or listening to music. Now I don't think so. Let me share with you the masterpieces which have changed my life and can change yours. Follow me on Twitter!

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