Sunday, September 29, 2019

What Do You Consider to be a Successful Day of Plein Air Painting?

Early Spring Day 11x14 Oil - Available
This finished painting was made over two sessions.  I'd
consider it frameable, for the points listed below in the text.
I felt the day was a success when I completed it.

Ramah Rocks 9x12 Oil Study
On this day, my goal was to just go out and do some closeups
of the local rocks and cliffs.  A downpour stopped me before I
finished, but I accomplished my goal and felt good about the day.

When I'm painting in a plein air event—and I've been in many—I consider the day a success if I've completed at least two paintings that are worthy of framing.  So many items have to be ticked off my checklist:  Interesting subject that is representative of the event's location, a good design with a few simple shapes and values, a harmonious color scheme that evokes a certain mood, and mark-making that looks loose but not sloppy.

But this is just one measure of success.  Others involve less stress but can have the same degree of satisfaction.  It all boils down to what the goal is for the day.  Having a definite goal when you go out helps.  Here are some possibilities. I find it helpful to start each goal statement with "Today my goal is to – " and then fill the in blank.

  • Today my goal is to gather reference material.  Success is coming home with color studies, some photos plus plus value sketches that explore design possibilities. 
  • Today my goal is to work on a problem.  Success is coming home with studies that help me understand some aspect of the landscape that confuses me.
  • Today my goal is to work on a skill.  Success is coming home with practice pieces that fine-tune my ability to render the landscape.
  • Today my goal is to explore a new location.  Success is coming home with some sketches—pencil or color—and some photos that capture the things that make the location unique and interesting.
  • Today my goal is to explore a new medium or technique.  Success is coming home with a new understanding of the medium or technique as it relates to outdoor painting.
  • Today my goal is to relax.  Success is coming home with paintings, sketches—or just the memory of having looked at the landscape with the eyes of a painter.

What do you consider to be a successful day of plein air painting?


PleinAirGal said...

Excellent explanation of goals, Michael! I generally consider the day a success if I'm able to produce a painting that I'm willing to sign or one that is close to being finished. But there are days where, for whatever reason, it just doesn't work and the painting gets wiped out on the spot - rare, but it happens. And some days the goal is just to get OUT and paint SOMETHING! I find that I have more successful days when I keep my goals and expectations at a middle level rather than too specific or lofty. EG: Today I'm going to work on middle ground trees, not Today I'm going to paint trees like Asher Durand.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Sometimes, just getting out there and pushing around paint is a worthy goal!