I am delighted to be hanging on the walls of the beautiful Crossnore Gallery...
The Plein Air Challenge
"En plein air" is a French expression which means "in the open air." For artists it refers to the technique of painting outdoors, on location, and completing the piece on site. This method was employed by many artists travelling to document new world discoveries and it really took off in the 1870's when the now-common tube was invented to hold paint. Seems that having to mix the colors while in the field was a minor deterrent for some painters!
Hah! That's not the only thing that makes plein air painting a challenge -- even the most professional artists today will tell you it is one of the most difficult ways to create art.
Imagine this if you will: First you pack up all the materials you are going to use: paints, brushes, water or solvents, a canvas, sketchbook and pencils. Then you find an easel that is easy to carry and set up (metal? wood? tall? short?)and perhaps an umbrella if there will be no shade. Now you check your supply of water (to drink)and food (to eat). You will also need sunscreen, a hat, some bug spray and perhaps a stool or a chair. Put all of this in your handy-dandy...bag? backpack? whatever, and see if you can lift it. Put it all in the car and drive to your designated spot. Now unload everything and take off walking (hiking) to find that perfect scene to paint. Oops, did you forget your sweater? your raincoat? Do you know where you are going?
I seem to find every ant bed on the terrain but the times I do get set up successfully and turn to the canvas I find that I am so overstimulated by the 360 degree panaramic view of beauty that I hardly know where to start. By now, I am anxious and need my lunch. Then the light shifts and I have to move all my gear to reposition again.
Once we were assaulted by wild dogs, once the stench of the marsh was nauseating, another time the wind send everything blowing far, far away and another time the traffic was so noisy we could not think.
Why do I share all of this? Several reasons: most people think painting in "plein air" must be a romantic, sublime experience. It is not. It is hard, hard work and when you see a great piece that was done plein air it is worth every penny they ask for it. Secondly, I tell you this because I am headed off to a workshop next week in Bucks County, PA with the much revered Richard McKinley to once again attempt to get over my outdoor painting anxiety. I have followed his work and writings for years and when they gave me 2 hours to decide if I wanted off the waiting list and into the class I jumped at the chance.
Did I also mention that painting in oil means one must paint wet into wet and nothing ever dries (try putting that in your backpack to carry home). Thankfully I will be doing pastels which is what McKinley is famous for....but packing them (I'm used to using 100's of them at home in the studio) to carry a)on an airplane and b)into the woods, will present the first of many challenges.
Anyway, I will ask in advance for understanding all of this when I return with my attempts under his instruction. They may not be so pretty but they will be sincere...PAPA (the prestigious Plein Air Painters of America) will have no competition from yours truely. My hope is that I can find even an hour that week where I really do enjoy myself and can channel that romantic image we have of all the impressionists sitting beside the ponds enjoying their work.
I'll let you know.