Reflections of a Plein Air Painter

August 08, 2019 3 Comments

Reflections of a Plein Air Painter

Artist: Bob Noreika
Title: Glistening Harbor
Size: 12” x 16”
Medium: Oil on Panel
Frame: Académie 2 1/8" Black and Gold Artist Frame
Website: https://www.robertnoreika.com/

A day confronting nature, a battle between light and dark forces, a will to see it through to its final destiny. This might be the trailer for a Star Wars movie… or just another day in the life of a Plein Air painter. Lately I’ve been wondering what makes an outdoor painter distinctly different from that of a studio painter. Based on some of my own experiences and those accumulated from listening to many of the Wholesale Frame customers, I have put together some ideas about the challenges and rewards of Plein Air painting. 

The "materials list" is a good place to begin. When I’m in my studio at home, I have every tool available to me, not to mention a very handy slop sink, willing to take on any mess I’ve made. But then, when I go paint outside, suddenly I am a minimalist looking for tools that provide a minimum of 3 or more functions. While this is helpful in some instances, compromising on quality should not factor into this equation. For example, still bring your best paints and brushes, but maybe not every brush you’ve ever owned.  Similarly, bring a range of paint colors, but maybe not three “different” burnt siennas This will make everything easier to keep track of while relying on some basic comforts from home.

The very best reason that I can see for painting outside is the ability to see light.  Photographs will never provide the same amount of clarity that looking with your own eyes will. “Start with the light…what are the big shapes? For the most part stick to that.” Bob Noreika is a treasure trove of information for the novice or experienced painter.  He sticks to what matters most, builds on the basics, but never loses sight of the ultimate goal, to make a successful and interesting painting. After taking the time to build your perfect tool kit, it’s worth the extra effort to spend time thinking about where you will set up.  Bob recommends walking around, looking for interesting light.  What catches your eye?  Let that intuition be a guide while you settle into a painting session.   

In the field, look for a balance of sharp shapes compared to more abstract ones. Every mark you make has a color and a shape, in short, making each mark important.  Whether it is a broad sweep of ocean water or the flickering dab of light hanging off a boat, they need to work together for the greater cause of a successful painting. Keep in mind that dynamic shapes like a triangle move the eye around, while static shapes like a square or circle can be grounding.  Remember to pace yourself and keep moving around the composition, all the while asking yourself - how much information is truly necessary to inform my viewers?  Viewers are often responding to the emotion they see reflected in a work of art, so don’t be afraid to let your own emotions wander a bit and get lost in the moment.

Circling back to the comforts of your own studio, revisit work from the wilderness with a fresh eye, a clean pallet and if you’re lucky air conditioning. See it for what it is, a painting.  How is it functioning as a painting?  What areas work, and which do not?  This is the time for a more critical eye so don’t suddenly be afraid to make edits or simplify. Turn it upside down, step back, and really look.  Sometimes areas that once bothered me outside will fade gently into the composition while other areas suddenly seem unbearable to live with.  At any rate, feel free to make improvements but don’t lose the energy and spunk you had outside. Knowing when to stop is always the hardest part for me, as I find myself always wishing I had just taken the time to make a better mark the first time around. On that note, I will stop, instead wishing you a rewarding experience while you take on the great outdoors one painting at a time. 




3 Responses

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October 21, 2019

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October 21, 2019

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Anne Sieling
Anne Sieling

August 15, 2019

A tale of plein air painting on Assateague Island…. I had picked a spot in the Assateague National Park for painting on a glorious day in August. Bright sun, nice breeze, lots of scenery and people with bright colored kayaks. All went well until, as the afternoon wore on, the nice breeze picked up. I heard a “swoooosh” and there, in the water before me, floated my umbrella rapidly sailing along toward open water. Kayakers to the rescue! One wonderful lady corralled the open umbrella and wrestled in closed while managing her kayak. With many thanks and kudos for her umbrella catching ability, I regained the runaway and got out my gaffer tape (always carry gaffer tape—it’s great stuff). After taping the two pieces of the umbrella together at the proper angle, I then taped the entire thing to the back of a wooden bench. One problem down. As I sat down to start painting again, one of my six by eight supports sailed by and into the drink. Again, I cried out for assistance, and a lovely young lady hung out over the pier and grabbed in just in time.( It was foam core back, so was not sinking but sailing away.)
Then cam the thunderstorm. Just a cell that decided to sit over the spot where I was painting, but it poured. I quickly untaped the umbrella, pulled it down over my head and my pallet, and struggled on not thinking about the fact that all the windows in my car were open. A passerby reminded me of that fact, and I emerged from my under-umbrella position to run through puddles and pours and rolled up the windows, leaving the engine running (I thought) in order that the air conditioning would dry out the soaked interior of the car. Well, things do happen in threes, and the third was rapidly approaching. It stopped raining, the sun emerged, the gulls came back, and I finally decided my painting was finished. I went to my car, and, yes….the battery was stone dead. I had simply left the key on but not the engine. Again, I was saved by a young couple who took pity on me standing there with my brand new jumper cables in hand. They hooked me up to a little blue car, and, voila..the engine turned over and I was in business.
Plein air painting is such fun! Doing it my way you meet at least 10 nice people a day and are encouraged to keep painting, no matter what!

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