2 Reasons That Plein Air Painting Is So Important

Many, if not most, accomplished painters extol the virtues of painting on location (plein air).  I agree wholeheartedly.  Lately I’ve been interested in identifying some reasons to back up my belief.  This post will illustrate 2 of the most important reasons.

Reason #1:  Capture The Essence Of A Subject Quickly
When you paint on location you need to paint quickly and decisively.  There isn’t time to get bogged down in detail.  So you need to create shapes that capture the essence of a subject without a lot of fuss. One common subject is trees.  Plein air painting has taught me how to quickly create shapes that read as trees.  Creative brush work is one way to do this.

Here is how I hold the brush to quickly suggest a mass of trees.

Rex Beanland, overhand grip











This overhand grip allows me to drag the brush on it’s side and it instantly creates a ragged, crinkly edge that reads just like the outline of trees.

Rex Beanland, brush technique










Another way of using the brush is to mush it into the palette to make the hairs splay out.

Rex Beanland, Mushing the brush











By using all the sides of the brush and even pushing against the hairs you can create some  interesting marks that read as foliage.

Rex Beanland, Mushed Brush in use










This is particularly useful for occasions when you have some branches breaking into the frame.

Rex Beanland, foliage













Reason #2:  Simplify The Subject Into Basic  Shapes

In almost any plein air experience there is far too much detail and we need to simplify it to just capture the essence.

Here is a photo from my last trip to Kensington Market in Toronto.  I love the wonderful colour of all the vests and clothing.

Rex Beanland, Kensington Market (detail)











It would be impossible to paint all this detail so I found a way to simplify it down to a few simple washes.  It still captures completely the feeling I had which was simply bright colour surrounded by lovely darks.

Rex Beanland, simplify shapes











For me this says all I want to say about this section of the painting.

These are just 2 or the reasons that plein air painting helps us grow as artists. By practicing these skills we can’t help but progress and progress rather quickly. It has been an essential part of my artistic journey and I encourage you to get outside and experience it for yourself.

By the way, this detail is from my new DVD which will be available in about 6 months.  If you are interested in seeing a little more about this painting and the filming process check out this recent post.


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