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.
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.
Happy happy days.