Why Bother With Plein Air Painting? (Painting On Location)

I have written a number of times about the benefits of plein air painting and I’ve recently been reminded of them.

Here are 3 previous posts

I find that when I get to involved with photographs I eventually get pretty stale and the paintings show it.  I reached this stage recently as the winter months keep me in the studio working from photos.

But fortunately we have been cross country skiing at Bragg Creek a lot and since my wife Susan, is a much better skier than me I have about an hour after my ski waiting for her and this is prime time for a little plein air sketching.  Plein air means painting outside on  location.

In terms of the benefits of plein air painting what stands out in these studies is that each subject really has some challenges.  The challenges are things that are in the scene that I don’t have a lot of experience with but I have to figure out, quickly, some way to represent them.  There’s a definite time limit and so there is no time to waste.  I take my best shot and get on with it.


Rex Beanland, Bragg Creek 2, watercolour, 9 x 12
Bragg Creek

The two challenges in this painting were the subtle undulations of the snow in the foreground and the large mass of trees in the background.  To capture the feel that there were a lot of trees back there I just took a brush charged with water and quickly washed it over the entire top of the painting and voila! it gives the impression there is something going on back there.

Rex Beanland, Bragg Creek Trees, watercolour, 9 x 12
Bragg Creek Trees

The challenge in this painting was how to quickly get the feel of all the foliage which was really one shape but with lots of variations in colour and value.  I thought briefly of trying to paint each shape separately but that was way to time consuming so I just made one wash of the lighter green and as it dried kept adding darker greens.  It completely captured the feel of the scene for me.

Rex Beanland, Claire, watercolour, 9 x 12

This last one was done while I was attending a zoom meeting.  That’s a video app where you can see all the participants.  This woman was great because she seemed very tired but held this basic pose for quite a while so I was able to complete the entire thing in about 40 minutes.

So Why Bother With Plein Air?

The main thing I remember was the excitement I felt to get out of the studio and deal directly with the subjects.  It invigorates my mind and I find myself making decisions quickly and decisively. 

Plus it’s a lot of fun and time just flies.  I also have a great record of each experience.  They remind me of the moment far better than a photo would.  And finally I learned a lot from each one of them.  

It just can’t be beat!

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