Sunday, October 14, 2012

Plein air... or Studio....Different... Yet the Same! - Part One

"We've been told that's an orange. So we call it an orange. We've been told that's an apple. So we call it an apple. But you and I look at these things and see different objects- with the same name. I paint them in a still life and I set them down in what my intellect tells me is the order and the form in which they appear to me. It's a constructive process from beginning to end. No I'm no anarchist. I believe in total liberty, yes, but subject to man inner order, control- and laws"

- Pablo Picasso

Different... Yet the Same!

 Each of these leaves comes from a different source. Each species has its unique shape, texture and colour and appears very different from the others. And yet, all are the same... because they all come from plants. Each plant's life force depends upon its being rooted in the earth. Each one... in it's own singular way functions for one reason - to grow and to bear fruit. Each accomplishes this in varying degrees differently and separately... across a varying life span.

Similarly, the human species... though sharing the same needs and physiology per say, we display vastly differing  features such as colour, language, music, religion or spirituality,ethnic and cultural traits. Though we live in diverse geographically different areas of the world, we do share intrinsic emotions, physical needs and desires for a common quality of life and the pursuit of joy and happiness. And like plants, we too... in our own individual manner seek to grow... learn... and yes...bear fruit.

One of the great benefits for me in painting outdoors for most of my life, is that I have  found myself constantly in a position to observe the inter-connectedness of all things in Creation. I "see" and observe behaviours in all that is around me... which though they come from vastly different species they closely mimic or follow the very same behaviours of human kind. Each and every time that I observe a pair of geese ready to step between their young and potential danger... no matter on what scale, I am reminded that love for a chosen mate and ones young are not reserved for the human species alone.

Each time that I find myself walking amidst a stand of forest, I now can see clearly the innate harmony and the sense of community under which trees "agree" to coexist. The "elders" shading the new growth on the forest floor. The richness of the past... in the form of nutrient... to enable the continuance of those who follow. Though they all strive to reach greater heights and the hope of a better life through finding "light"... each in its totally unique way does so, usually without impeding the opportunity of the member species nearby. Is that not "supposed" to be be the path of the human spirit? I wonder.....

I could, without any difficulty continue to offer example after example about this observed inter-connectedness in all Creation, but minds better than my own like Walt Whitman and David Suzuki have offered more developed and authoritative views than my humble observations. I wish only to suggest in this post that going outdoors, or painting "en plein air"  offers a great opportunity for the artists to observe and have revealed to them knowledge about how the Natural World operates which can never be fully captured in a book... a studio... a class workshop or on a dvd. That valuable asset can only be gained through experience in the field.

As human kind we have emerged and arrived in modernity through our common path towards this point as hunter-gatherer societies. Those instincts that our predecessors gained and honed through their struggle to survive are deeply rooted in all societies, both in the distant past and the present. I would offer that they are present in every man, woman and child... from birth. But I would offer that in today's "softer" existence the need to be a hunter-gather, at the best of times is peripheral for most folks.

However... most artists share a deeply embedded need and passion to search for meaning and knowledge... on a number of levels. Most share a more aware and positive view regarding a need for conservation. Most possess a stronger and more reverent of heritage and family ties. Most value and regard education as a primary need for themselves, their children and their family members. Most, in my experience and then in my own view... are more liberal and accepting of differences in others they live with. Most gather their data from the field...and return with their harvested kernels of knowledge... and paintings to be used in their home work.

Those areas of "sameness" ... in the face of their vast and varying areas of difference in their highly individual methods... mediums and preferences of subject matter serve to fuel the common need to create and express ourselves visually. We are all truly "different... yet the same."

There has been much banter about plein air painting being superior to studio painting. I would again argue my earlier point that both share similarities to the other... while at the same time differences. Both situations can be used to create the various genres that all of us embrace from time to time. Landscapes of equal quality and value have been created by artists of every calibre across the ages. One could argue that the prehistoric paintings found in caves around the world are indeed the first "studio paintings" by man.

And those red ochre paintings I've seen from First Peoples in our region and others around the world could arguably be really... the first examples of "plein air" painting. Where does that put the French... who first coined the word now used during the period known as the Impressionist era? Are both not valid examples of both painting traditions? Whether one paints inside or out... it is the light that is important in the process. Outside the light is natural "white light" and does indeed make colour mixing pure. However any studio worth its rent... usually boasts having a "North Light"... meaning that it is constant.

Still life opportunities exist in both locations... as do figurative studies. Lighting conditions... weather and time are factors which do indeed factor into one's method of working outdoors. Making decisions and using quick brushwork enliven those works completed on location. The skill of "seeing"... understanding is much facilitated by study done out in nature. Therefore, there is immense value in working out there. But that knowledge and the traits just mentioned can be readily applied by the artist in the studio... after he or she has acquired the knowledge and skill out on location. When that stage is reached... one can work comfortably in either place... and the final outcome can become indistinguishable.

So in closing... Plein air or studio painting share differences and also similarities. One is not superior to the other. In fact, each can support the other... and can work hand in hand to make one a better painter... blending painterly speed... with disciplined and detailed planning. My best advice is to give both some of your time. Sketch... on location?... or larger paintings crafted over hours of painting in the studio? The question of which one is superior can best be answered with this question? Which one steals.... or captures the senses? That one... wherever it was painted... is truly..."superior"!

Just one fella's thoughts!


This photo was taken on last Friday after a newspaper interview that I was involved in as a prelude to an upcoming show that I am a part of with the tiaArts group of painters. The event is being hosted by The eagle Point Winery on November 16 thru' 18. As I came out of the main building I noticed this wonderful landscape opportunity begging to be painted, but I had other business to take care of back in Rockport... so I put it on hold until Saturday.

This is the "same" scene on that very next day! The same place?... Yes...  well almost... but with some differences added by Mr Jack Frost overnight!

 The "same"... but "different landscape"... certainly many of the elements that I was first drawn to which encouraged me to think about painting this lansdscape. But here is the "different" version that I set out to paint... en plein air at temperatures less than 10c... and a stiff head wind all the way through the outing!

"Ice Wine Anyone ?...After the Frost at Eagle Point Winery" - "raw" plein air oil sketch on toned panel 12x16 inches.

Icy and cold conditions here! No dallying ... just get it all down quickly! A raw wind creates "raw interpretation! It is what it is...

Stay tuned for the "studio enriched" version! .... It will be "the same... but different"! HA HA!!!

Good Painting... indoors and in the studio... to ALL!


  1. I am amazed at the change overnight in the grape vines! Love your version of it and look forward to seeing another version of it too, Bruce.

  2. Hi there Sherry!... Thanks for visiting and for your vote of confidence!

    I was as surprised as you when I discovered the transition overnight. But we did have what's called a "killer" frost in our area and it sure lived up to its name in this vineyard!

    I did sketch in spite of the change... but really was not totally satisfied with the quality of the plein air "vintage" for the day! HA HA!... so I will likely revise it here in the studio... to my liking!

    All of the information I need to do so is there. That is the value of plein air work!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Brrrrrr.... that must have been a cold one!
    Best wishes for the show.

    Stay warm and happy painting.

  4. Hi there Lisa! Was too ... very cold! Going to get colder... but those first few cold ones are the hardest ones! Then the ol' body gets used to it!

    Thanks for the visit and encouraging comments!

    Good Painting@!
    Warmest regards,

  5. I always tell students that there is no "right" way to paint. The rules are a good idea to learn and give you wider freedom in the long run to break those rules because then you know what you're doing:-) Studio or Plein Air - each is wonderful and challenging. I can't take statements that one is better than the other too seriously. Each artist has a personal bias - I prefer to work in the studio as I feel more in control, but there is something very special about being outdoors and slapping down paint before the light changes! Love what you did with that killer frost!

  6. Hi Bruce, those first two paragraphs could be a manifesto for the United Nations! What a wonderful metaphor for our diversity and interdependence.

    The arrangement of leaves could be an artwork as it is, but are you tempted to make a painting of it?

    What a transformation to the vineyard! Ironically though the frost has actually introduced more warm colours into the scene. A fact which you have made good use of with your red/green contrasts.

    Inspiring, as always.
    All the best,

  7. Hi there Karen!... Thanks for visiting and for adding your own views on the matter of plein air vs studio painting!

    You are absolutely right. As with all things... "rules" are guidelines and should be viewed and applied as such... and not as absolutes!

    "Being in control" should be the objective in either situation. That can only be achieved when dares ... to own the process and not be dictated by what reality... weather or "rules" would direct.

    From this comes paintings which are created more from feeling than what might actually be there. Therein lies truly evocative images!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  8. Good Morning Keith!... Thanks for dropping by!

    The "manifesto" is something we both live under in both our painting and personal lives - by choice! There is an inner peace which only comes to "those" who understand and practise this approach to living and painting!

    And yes both are in fact interdependent upon the other. Absolute Freedom is the objective in both situations!

    The irony which you pointed out in the situation caused by unexpected frost which resulted in rich warm colours was simply... feeling the freedom/need to override the actual scene and cold situation... and then to replace it with elements which provided the desired effect.

    The notion for the entire post came from simply being out in the varied colour... amid the leaf shapes and sizes which combine to provide that pageant. Those single leaves... each contribute tom the whole.

    We can... as individuals... and artists do the same... "The Power of One"! We are all members of the choir of humanity!

    " Make a joyful noise..."

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  9. Good morning Bruce,

    Amazing photos and a beautiful painting. Bundle up and stay warm.

    All the best to you,

  10. Thanks Joan!... I hope that this post helped you with your sorting out of plein air vs studio concerns Joan! Just paint for painting's sake... and your own pleasure!

    Let everyone else figure it out for themselves... and choose... as we have!

    Good Painting... either way!
    Warmest regards,

  11. Hi Bruce,

    It's me again. Yes, your post has helped a great deal. Only wish I had this knowledge several months ago, before I spent so much money on my plein air equipment. Cousin Sue and I had a laugh about my pochade box collection. I joined the frenzy. I have my Kevin MacPherson pochade on its way.
    Mike has been shaking his head ever since I got hung up on this equipment addiction.

    So once again, you have helped me to get back on course. Keep it simple and enjoy. Thank you.

    All the best to you,

    ps, I also learned that the meaning of the French word pochade, means little box with a thumb hole. Someone should inform these companies that they are selling paint boxes as pochades. Okay, I know I'm getting carried away now. Happy Painting to You.

  12. Hi there Joan!... The $$$ spent on your plein air equipment is not ill-spent at all Joan! Having pochade box(es) is not a wrong turn either!

    I have a nice one with a thumb hole which will hold three 5x7 up to 6x9 inch... 1/8 inch panel formats... perfect for use in the car or for packing in my back pack when I hike off road ant distance. It serves that use nicely!

    However, I am having a new built right at the moment which will house three 8x10 or 10x12 inch panels. It will have a camera mount on the bottom to accommodate a camera stand, so that I can pack this one again off road and set up carrying minimal weight and equipment.

    The notion that one method for making paintings is somehow superior to the other has always seemed silly to me. The argument sort of mimics two terriers on each of a rag... with no clear winner ever evolving from the struggle... just a lot of posturing and growling! HA HA!!

    Do stay your course Joan... and just follow... paint your heart out... painting what you want... where you want... and when you can!
    Keep it simple and enjoy yourself... as you obviously have been doing!

    Good Painting... either place!
    Warmest regards,

    PS Kevin MacPherson is a fine painter in either situation. He would agree with this stance I believe! I have both of his plein air Bibles!