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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When does it stop being plein air painting?


"The Three Graces," Carol L. Douglas
“The Three Graces,” Carol L. Douglas
I have never been much for the debate over what constitutes plein air painting. What percentage needs to be done on location? Does painting from your car count? These questions mostly just annoy me. At every plein air event I’ve done, painters continue to work at night after they leave their location. Years of painting give you excellent visual memory. Letting your eyes rest after a day of working in bright light is an important step.
Since the only requirement is that the work be finished within a certain period, it’s up to us to interpret what “painted en plein air” actually means. And the vast majority of artists, I find, are very strict about the rules they establish.
"The Three Graces" as it looked when I took down my easel.
“The Three Graces” as it looked when I took down my easel.
In most cases, I can tell at a distance whether a work was done on location or not. The energy of plein air painting is not easily faked, although the lighting and brushwork may be indistinguishable from studio painting. In plein air painting, the whole scene is constantly subject to change. That lends a frisson of nerves to the process.
“My clients don’t care whether it was painted on location or not,” Brad Marshall once said during one of these interminable discussions. “They’re just interested in whether it’s a good painting.”
"Mercantile's anchor," Carol L. Douglas
“Mercantile’s anchor,” Carol L. Douglas

That’s true, but it becomes an issue for painters when they’re selecting paintings to apply for upcoming plein air events. At what point do after-the-fact edits disqualify a work from consideration?
I did the two paintings in this post during the same week. There was gorgeous weather and I painted almost non-stop on the floating docks at Camden. Of course there were interruptions, since wherever I go, that’s where the party’s at.
Had I gone back to my studio and made the same changes I made yesterday, I’d have had no hesitation in calling them en plein air paintings. However, my husband flew home from Norway, and I didn’t get back to them until yesterday.
"Mercantile's anchor" as it looked when I took down my easel.
“Mercantile’s anchor” as it looked when I took down my easel. Because I’d painted this boat in dry-dock, I know its black hull is underpainted in green.
I made no structural changes to either painting, because I’m trying to make a point. (Otherwise, I’d have moved that boom out of directly behind the anchor.) In neither case was a photo necessary to finish. But in both cases, the surface has been overpainted almost completely, and I had the luxury of time in which to finish them.
So, for the purpose of jurying, is this plein air painting? I don’t have a ready answer, and I’m interested in your opinion.

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