Monday, June 27, 2011

En Plein Air

One of the great joys of being an artist is that I often paint en plein air (French term for outdoors). I have painted and sketched all over the country and half a dozen countries in Europe. I love being outdoors and experiencing the world first hand. Photographs are great but they can never bring back the feeling of the moment when I sketched it. Don’t get me wrong I do have a camera and I take reference photos but I would rather have a small sketchbook filled with images and writings than 700 pictures with no feeling. When I travel I carry a Moleskine sketchbook that fits in my purse. I use this sketchbook for line drawings, notes, and journaling. Many of these pen sketches are later turned into larger paintings once I am back at the studio.

One of my favorite quotes is from the book “The Art Spirit, by Robery Henri” Published in 1923.
"The sketch hunter has delightful days of drifting about among people, in and out of the city, going anywhere, everywhere, stopping as long as he likes-no need to reach any point, moving in any direction following the call of interest. He moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook. Like any hunter he hits or misses. He is looking for what he loves, he tries to capture it. It’s found anywhere, everywhere. Those who are not hunters do not see these things. The hunter is learning to see and to understand-enjoy."

I know how romantic all this might sound. The other side of painting en plein air is dealing with things you can’t control…weather, bugs, inquisitive tourists, sunburns, sprinklers, dogs…and noise! I have sketched in remote areas of the world to have a man with a weed wacker appear out of nowhere. My painting buddy Judy calls me the “weed wacker magnet”. Judy and I were painting last week when suddenly we were surrounded by every imaginable noisy machine you could imagine...and a weed wacker! We just laughed and continued to paint.
Happy painting!


  1. "The Art Spirit" is a permanent fixture on my nightstand! I hope it is not bad form to ask your advice regarding technique for staining Japanese papers. I find that the paper towels soak up a lot of the color from the strips when I lay them down to dry. I thought about laying them on foil to dry. Or am I using a too thin paint mix? Or am I just overly concerned. Thank you. Alix

  2. I am happy to answer your question about staining papers.

    It sounds like you may be using too much water and not enough paint. I am always surprised how much paint I can go through when staining papers. The paper towels do absorb paint but not that much.

  3. Thank you! Your generous spirit was so apparent in the article. One day, I hope to be able to do a workshop with you.

  4. I have had some pretty odd experiences over the years...from being hit on by a creep, a cat that got into my art supplies and ran off with a book strap, a squirrel who wouldn't leave me alone... I've also had people bring me a hot cup of coffee, a chef bring out a fresh mug of Heirloom tomato bisque soup, and then offer an opportunity to have a showing of our work in his very nice restaurant.

    All in all I would rather paint outdoor than in my studio!