Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Reversing the Plein Air Painting Process

Color field study for "Early Spring Day" - 12x9 oil

Last week, when I was teaching my one-on-one private painting intensive, we did something a little different regarding plein air painting.  Normally, one starts in the field and, if the painting doesn't quite meet expectations, finishes in the studio.  This time, although we did some preliminary work in the field, we did most of the work in the studio, and then finished in the field.  It's a reversal, of sorts, of the usual process.

First, we went on-location to make a quick color study and to take a few photographs.  We then went back to the studio, where we created several design sketches based on this material.  The  original color study, of course, captured nothing of the vastness of the scene, nor did the snapshots do it justice; so instead, we made a series of charcoal sketches, playing with format and scope, until we got the sense of scale we wanted.  Once this was settled, we transferred the design to the canvas on which we intended to make the final painting.  After that, we blocked in color, referring to the field study but pushing the color, with the goal of creating the sense of light we experienced in the field.

Reference photo

Charcoal design sketches

Studio step for "Early Spring Day"11x14
(First I toned canvas with Gamblin Fastmatte Transparent Earth Red)
This is what I took to the field to finish

All this work gave us a powerful start to the final painting, so when we returned to the field, we had much more time to adjust color and contours and to unify the elements before the light changed.

We found this an incredibly relaxing way of plein air painting—do the grunt work in the studio where you can take as much time as you need, and then once in the field, where time becomes a factor, you can can bring your vision to a successful completion.  (By the way, I demonstrate this and other outdoor painting techniques in my book, Outdoor Study to Studio: Take Your Plein Air Painting to the Next Level, available at Amazon.)

Finished painting:
"Early Spring Day"
11x14 Oil/canvas
Available - $800 unframed

This week I am in Sedona teaching my all-level plein air workshop.  From there, I will embark on a painting trip via RV with my friend, M.L. Coleman.  Our expedition will take us to northern Arizona to the Navajo reservation.  If I'm out of cell range and can't post, I'll definitely post a trip report on my return.

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