Thursday, February 17, 2011

Getting A Plein Air Feel... in the Studio




Last night I was pleased to present a two hour demonstration to about thirty keen members of the Barrie Art Club in their shared studio space. This opportunity to share arose when several of their members visited Hillsdale on a plein air paint out... and when cold... they came to our Gallery for a warm up... and look around. I was asked if I would accept an invitation to do a demo after Christmas matters settled.

The object of their invitation was to give members some tips and encouragement to increase plein air participation based upon my own working methods. This request is not new to me... most people who choose to paint in the warmth of the studio and in large groups are a bit mystified by my preference to be "out there" in all sorts of weather... particularly in winter.

I geared my presentation and demo towards the aspects of painting outdoors... especially in difficult weather. Firstly... use of Time is really important. Cold can be punishing... but also because Time in winter is unlike other seasons because the lighting is transient... changing constantly with cloud cover and the shorter daylight hours.

So prior preparation is essential. My palette is already in place and ready for use. My canvas sizes are primed... toned and available to accommodate any subject format. I usually have scouted out a subject and therefore have a location in mind... so I waste no time looking for motivation. I do an equipment check to ensure that I have the necessary support to begin quickly. My easel, box and equipment needs are light and easy to set up and carry... in and out.

I allow myself about fifteen minutes to gauge the scene and digest what it is that I want to paint... a great time for a quick coffee and tromp around. I set to work quickly spending as little time as possible to create an accurate ... thought out composition based upon bare bones information and most important linear elements. I then begin a very thin application of blocks of appropriate colour... establishing darks and lights very thinly. I usually allow and use most of a half hour to forty-five minutes to reach this initial state.

I then step back about a dozen paces... coffee or soup in hand... and plan my "assault/attack" on the canvas. I try very hard to work with speed and confidence... alla prima... brushes loaded with almost raw pigment... doing most of the "mixing" of tones almost in an accidental way. Leave "good" strokes... those that show meaningful value... direction or colour and movement. I then focus on the dark-light relationship in the painting. That will inevitably be the subject... or be located surrounding it.
My final task is to fine tune values... and add a few rigger strokes to give detail. Stopping is easy when you are cold... or when the light has faded. If I am not going to meet the deadline in my battle with the light... I will take a digital image to support some extra tweaking back in the studio. I rarely need to return to the site... preferring to let my memory guide the finishing.

I began the "sharing" at 7:00 pm sharp... and was underway painting on the black toned 20x24 inch canvas 15 minutes later. I brought the outdoors... indoors ... using a 10x12 inch panel which I had made in November on location. I answered questions continually throughout the drawing and lay in parts of the demo and we took a break at 8:00 pm for individual questions... socializing... and snacks. At 8:15 sharp I jumped into the "attack"mode to demonstrate how speed and the alla prima method dove-tailed.

At exactly 9:00 pm... I put the brushes down and allowed people to fire questions at me and to come up closer to the "finished" work. All in all... it was a valuable learning experience for everyone... my Self included! I came away with a strong feeling that the work... done under studio conditions did in fact possess the "painterly" freshness that comes from outdoor sketching within similar time and pressure constraints! I was satisfied that people were going home encouraged by new ideas and enthusiasm to perhaps give plein air painting a whirl... whenever!!

A night well spent! New friends.... and another reasonably good painting for the Gallery... with a few tweaks to be added!


Good Painting to ALL! Get out there!

20 comments:

  1. Hi, I love your work, I love the colors and light that you give very good job congratulations, greetings.

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  2. I love both of these paintings. I admire your dedication and willingness to work outside in cold weather. I love the winter and take a morning walk most days but setting up to paint out there isn't something I do. I can well imagine how fascinated the group was to watch you proceed. I wish I could have been there. I am sticking to my studio, though. I guess I'm a wuss.

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  3. i bet you got them hooked bruce
    your enthousiasm knows no bounds
    and the paintings show that

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  4. Wow, you certainly did! It's very plein air-ish!
    Great description of the process- feels like I sat in on the demo.
    I'm inspired to try some "good" strokes.

    Terrific paintings over here Bruce, thanks for sharing.

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  5. Hi Ricardo!... Greetings... and welcome to my blog! Thank "You" for visiting and for your encouraging comments!

    I am very grateful for your comments about the colour and light in my work. Those elements are very important to me when I paint. Bright colour and light create drama... an essential ingredient to attract attention and create interest for the viewer.

    Do visit again!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  6. Hi Karen!... Thanks for the visit and encouragement!

    Each of us has our method and process... and a comfort level in using those. Not following the trail of others isn't any sign of weakness on your part... or for others as well!Not a wuss by any shake of the imagination!

    Good paintings can be ... and are made in both the outdoors and in studios. I just happen to really enjoy being outdoors when I paint. Too much of my life was given to making a living indoors. I never resented that fact... but I did take every opportunity I could find... or create... to get my class outdoors to sketch and write poetry together. Where there's a will... there's always a way! HAHA!!!

    Here's a poem I still recall by heart from a talented young gal Lois Lorimer... thirteen back in 1969.

    Splunder!

    What is Splunder?
    A splash of rain,
    A crash of thunder.
    Through this I blunder.
    To eternity!

    Lois has been a working actress over her life at the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the Lake. Always a dreamer... but living the dream. Just like "Me'!

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  7. Hi there Mate!... Thanks for visiting and for your encouragement!

    Don't know if I hooked 'em or not... but I sure did feed 'em a lot of tasty bait!HAHA!!!

    I truly enjoy sharing my time and knowledge with anyone who might want to grow and learn! Passing forward to help those following... or on the same journey gives "Me" pleasure and purpose.

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  8. Hi Jill!... Thanks for dropping by and for the very uplifting comments!

    Glad that you find it "plein air-ish" in quality! Using the alla prima method... "in quick time" certainly can produce very similar results in my experience!

    Do try some of those "good strokes"! HAHA!!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  9. Bruce, I'll bet everyone learned quite a bit!!

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  10. Hi Bruce,

    As you demonstrated, I think the key to producing a 'plein air' look is working quickly. That forces you to ignore unnecessary detail and concentrate on the main shapes and tonal values. It's essential to work that way outdoors, because we can see far more detail than we could possibly paint, but the experience we gain improves our studio work as well.

    All the best,
    Keith

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  11. Oh I do love snowy rural scenes just like this one, Bruce. It is beautiful and to think it came with a font of knowledge too!

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  12. Hi Marian!... Thanks for dropping by!

    I sincerely hope that I left those artists attending with some new ideas to try... or just ideas to mull over in their own minds.

    I truly enjoy the opportunity to share my thoughts and process because I really believe that painting outdoors and keeping a persioanl sketchbook/journal are both wonderful tools that increase personal and artistic development!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  13. Hi Keith!... Always wonderful to have you visit and share ideas!

    We share so many commonalities in our working method... despite the difference in mediums... bu more than that we share a common knowledge and appreciation for incorporating plein work with studio practice. Win-Win!

    It isn't "speed for the sake of speed"... as you suggested. It is rather speed to record without paying too much time and attention to extraneous detail. That certainly kills the freshness sought by being..."out there"!


    Thanks for your great comments and friendship Keith! Both are always appreciated!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  14. Hi there Sherry!.... Thanks for visiting and for your compliments!

    Rural beauty... knowledge and outdoor experience... never fail to produce good results! The fresh air doesn't hurt either!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  15. Hi Bruce,

    Yes definitely a plein air look, very painterly.
    The people in Canada are so fortunate to have you and your demos. Thank goodness for blogging.

    Once again thank you for sharing your wonderful knowledge of art.

    Have a great weekend.

    Joan

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  16. Hi there Joan!... Thanks for your visit and for the encouraging comments!

    THank goodness for blogging for sure... I share your sentimenst for sure there! I always look forward to our conversations and sharing!

    Have a great weekend! Ours is a long weekend... Family Day on Monday here in Canada! We'll play... an extra day with the lads! Looking forward to that!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  17. Hi Bruce, is this the same painting in stage one and then two. I notice the rutted path is different in the second one and of course they are at different times to me the first one is before the sun really is up as there is that lovely almost twilight quality to it, the light in the window and the low light. The second one looks as if the sun is really up and the house and barn is bathed in light, it looks warm. I like the first one best as it is not so tidy in the finished stage it just bursts with life, very expressive brush work and beautiful low lighting. Sometimes some great works can be produced very quickly. It is as if all knowledge and inspiration were stored inside of us and then would burst out onto the canvas full of energy as we paint. I know I painted a few like that. Some of my best work is done that way. The planning the mixing of colour and most of all tonal drawings and observation were the vital ingredients to bake the perfect painting!

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  18. Hi Caroline!.... Thanks for your visit... keen observations and compliments!

    Your observations underscore the very heart of what I had tried to convey to the Barrie Group. Outdoor painting creates a sense of freshness and a less rigid structure than studio painting - for "Me"!

    The very nature of outdoor painting discourages "dilly-dallying" around. One must work quickly and confidently... rapidly searching for "the meat" of what is before you....and to "get it down" before the lighting changes... or fails. This alone accounts for the expressive brushwork and strokes that exude freshness and an almost automatic response.

    The top piece is the 10x12 inch plein air sketch which was created in this manner.
    The 20x24 inch painting below painted on a black toned canvas was the product arising from my one hour plus demo for the group... created stop n' go for questions... to HOPEFULLY recreate that same outdoor process.

    Obviously... as you mentioned and observed... it doesn't have that very same looseness that the upper sketch has. It never could of course.But in my mind... and in the minds of many attending... it did give "the feel" of painterliness and painting with the wind as shown in the sketch version above!

    I consciously created new lighting to show that away from the scene... I can truly fly with my imagination. Therefore the strong differences... I think.

    In this demo experience and in my studio... it is the experience garnered over thirty odd years of getting "out there"... that enables "Me" to quickly and confidently feel my way around... no matter the light or the season. One can't acquire that ability in a heart beat... or from a "how to" book!It only comes through time... practice... and many poorly baked cakes!HAHA!!

    In being "out there"... I have in fact.... "seen" it... "felt" it... smelled it... tasted it... and heard it. When all senses combine in the painting process... the result is bound to be more expressive! Just my thoughts!

    "I" still search for the "recipe"... to " bake the perfect painting." Haven't done it yet!
    Onward I say!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  19. I really enjoy seeing the comparison of one subject done under two different conditions--I still marvel at your choices of color.

    ...and thank you for sharing your experience with studio demonstrations. I think that would be a wonderful thing to attend...:)

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  20. Hi Bridget!... Thanks ever so much for visiting again and for your very kind obswervations and compliments!

    Coming from one... whose work and work ethic "I" admire as well... makes them all the more meaningful to "Me"!

    AS is the case with your own current watercolour project... seeing the process is so much more interesting and valuable to the viewer. One can clearly understand the hurdles... and how they can be dealt with.

    Your work makes "Me" (somewhat) lonesome for my ol' watercolour days... or "life-before-oils"!HAHA!!

    Good Painting and Writing!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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