Plein air adventures

Plein painting on Dartmoor Vicki HutchinsPlein air on Dartmoor artist Vicki Hutchins

Yesterday I spent most of the day on Dartmoor, painting, sketching, walking and saying hello (from a safe distance) to the wild ponies, cattle and sheep.

Sustained by hot tea and bacon and beans from our camping stove, I managed to paint a quick oil sketch in about an hour and a half – by the end I was freezing, though I had on my winter woolly hat and thick fleece jacket – that’s Dartmoor for you. Beautiful but brutal.

It seems there’s so much to remember with plein air painting but really it’s just the same things to remember when studio painting: composition, value, contrast, movement, etc…..except the approach is completely different.

My studio paintings come about from a place I’m inspired by, and the process is more intuitive. The feel of a place is more important to me than whether I put in the right number of trees (unless it suited my purposes).  If I use photographs, it’s only in the very beginning to establish composition, otherwise I focus too much on irrelevant detail.

Plein air painting, as you can imagine then, is a challenge for me not to be overwhelmed by detail.

What features are essential to my painting, what to leave out, plus fast changing weather and light makes for a heady (but strangely exciting and moreish) experience.

I don’t see myself as a plein air painter at all, but, apart from the fact I’m starting to enjoy it, I see it as skill building, much like life drawing class.

For a while I struggled to see how painting plein air relates to my studio work, but I think I’ve broken through this brain barrier.  Actually, my husband pointed out, quite logically, that why shouldn’t I have a similar approach to plein air as I do with my other work – i.e. use what is there as a basis, but take detours as necessary.  Like I do anyway!

And now I’m interested to see where the influence of plein air painting affects my studio work, which I’d like to be even more abstracted than it already is in some cases.

What I have quickly realised though, is painting plein air, doing  more of a “proper” considered piece, provides much more inspiration than quick thumbnail sketches or loose watercolours I do.  Standing at an easel for a couple of hours, taking in all that information, it’s really powerful for imprinting the essence of a place into your being.

I am mostly happy with this attempt – it was a step forward in many aspects and I can feel my confidence building, which makes it easier for next time. I’m looking at it a day later and I’m right back there among the ponies and blustery wind, cup of tea in hand.  I think I left a piece of my soul up there.

Dartmoor in May by artist Vicki Hutchins


Afterwards, I sketched from the car, relieved to get out of the wind. Luckily there were panoramic views all around, so I was spoilt for inspiration.

Dartmoor studies - sketchbook of Vicki Hutchins

Happy happy days.


28 thoughts on “Plein air adventures

  1. Judith June 2, 2016 / 4:19 pm

    Beautiful memories of a day’s painting. I’m not a hardy enough soul to brave the elements, so my plein air attempts will be warm weather only. After reading about your experience, I’m eager now to get outside with my watercolors. Thanks for taking us along with you and showing us scenic Dartmoor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • vickihutchinsartist June 3, 2016 / 3:25 pm

      Hello Judith! I must admit, I’m not very good at coping with the cold, hence the winter gear! Not sure I’m hardy enough for foul weather either. But yes – do go and take some paints outside, even in the garden! I’ve been dragging all my stuff to the garden as when it’s sunny my studio is so dark it’s like a cave.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Judith June 3, 2016 / 4:23 pm

        Painting in the garden sounds so lovely, and then when I go out, of course I start sneezing LOL. I did sit outside yesterday evening with my little watercolor “field kit” and I painted some of my herbs. I did enjoy that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Judith June 3, 2016 / 4:51 pm

        I’m not going to let it stop me. I’m planning to do a little sketching and painting at a nearby lake. Really looking forward to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Margaret Parker Brown June 2, 2016 / 4:22 pm

    I loved that you went plein air painting! yay! I loved your painting, especially the fresh “here” ness of it. Your sketches afterwards shows even more of a connected feeling, perhaps being more comfortable? I love plein air and it will get you to really be more observant and your studio work will improve even more so. I compare plein air painting to going to the gym to lift weights, it makes you stronger and more in tune. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • vickihutchinsartist June 3, 2016 / 3:23 pm

      Hey Margaret! I thought of you when I was painting – that you do this all the time! And have serious wildlife to worry about (eek)! I think you’re absolutely right about plein air being like going to the gym and being more in tune! I love that analogy! The only thing is I find I’m over whelmed now with what to paint, so much inspiration! Arghghg. Hope you are well and enjoying your watercolour challenge, I’ll be coming by all the blogs I’ve missed hopefully today for a catch up!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. REcreate-RebeccaEvansCreate June 2, 2016 / 7:00 pm

    So great that you could get out doors, it’s so windy here in the new forest, any easel would have fallen over today. Great work being truly at one with nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura (Createarteveryday) June 3, 2016 / 12:42 pm

    Oh you are such a lucky girl! Love that you left a piece of your soul there and wow you brought us along and we thank you for that!!! Just gorgeous and swept away as I always am when looking at your paintings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • vickihutchinsartist June 3, 2016 / 3:17 pm

      You are so kind Laura – thank you so much! I’m in inspiration overload now – so indecisive about what direction to take next. Stop over thinking would be a good start! Have a great weekend, and thank you so much for your encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura (Createarteveryday) June 4, 2016 / 12:32 pm

        You are so easy to encourage because I really do feel the wind blowing in my hair almost every time I look at your landscapes. I feel totally swept away and one of my big dreams is to one day see England. You take me there in your work and I love it, Vicki.

        Liked by 1 person

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