Plein Air Is Not a Sport

June 27, 2013
Tiger Lilies, plein air watercolor sketch in Moleskine sketchbook.

Tiger Lilies, plein air watercolor sketch in Moleskine sketchbook.

Have you noticed all the hype that has been created around plein air painting over the past couple years? It seems as if there are more competitions, more hobbyists, more plein air groups, and even a convention! What is it about plein air painting that has become such an obsession with so many people, many of whom have likely never picked up a brush before?

I think for many (and this is only my opinion), there is a romantic appeal about setting up an easel and painting outside among nature the way the Impressionists did. It’s a chance to be like Monet for lack of a better way of putting it. One article even went so far as to describe it as “the plein air lifestyle”.

OK, well buying an expensive outdoor easel and painting alongside a hundred or more other artists all jockeying for position in the same location is not my idea of what plein air is all about. I think there needs to be more emphasis on the solitude and peace an artist can get from being ALONE and painting in a quiet (or not so quiet) place–truly observing their surroundings and improving their ability to see. So much of that is lost when plein air becomes all about competition and sport. I have only participated in one or two professional plein air events, and while well organized and run, I’ve left each with an uneasy feeling that this just isn’t the way to become a better artist.

Painting is not about how many awards you’ve won, how many competitions you’ve been in or how many DVD’s you’ve sold. It’s about becoming a better artist. The best way to become a better artist is to compete only with yourself–constantly challenge yourself to do the best work you are capable of, recognize your strengths and address your weak points. You can only do that through consistent practice without pressure. Watching DVDs will not make you a better painter, drawing and painting from direct observation will make you a better painter. Mixing colors on your palette in a real life situation is far more useful than mixing a hundred color charts in your studio.

So if the idea of painting outdoors appeals to you, by all means give it a try. But start out simply, with a sketchbook and some watercolors or even just pen and ink or charcoal. Really learn to see, pay attention to composition and the overall design of the landscape. Learn to really understand “how perspective works” so that you are in control of the depth and space in your painting. Mix colors using a limited palette so that you truly understand each shade and its nuances. Leave behind the expensive easels, umbrellas, and other stuff that you don’t really need when you’re just starting out (or when you’re more experienced for that matter, a stick of charcoal and a sheet of paper are all you need to make a nice drawing). Go outside and paint, it’s free…and dare I say it…it’s fun! 🙂


Accentuate the Negative

June 15, 2013
Initial block in, no drawing with pencil is done, I go right to paint.

Initial block in, no drawing with pencil is done, I go right to paint.

Next, I begin blocking in my middle dark and darkest values--the opposite of the way most artists work with watercolor.

Next, I begin blocking in my middle dark and darkest values–the opposite of the way most artists work with watercolor.

Continuing to work from dark to light, I begin blocking in light middle and bright colors, always thinking in terms of values and being aware of the need to hold the whites of the paper.

Continuing to work from dark to light, I begin blocking in light middle and bright colors, always thinking in terms of values and being aware of the need to hold the whites of the paper.

The end result--a watercolor that has strong darks that create contrast and depth alongside pure color.

The end result–a watercolor that has strong darks that create contrast and depth alongside pure color.

My way of working in watercolor is quite different than most watercolorists. I don’t draw with pencil first and I prefer to start with my dark values. As an oil painter, it is the way that makes the most sense to me. My strengths are in drawing and color mixing. Sometimes, watercolor paintings done in the traditional manner of working from light to dark and building up layers and glazes, lack the depth and contrast that can be achieved by boldly placing color side by side. If color is going next to color, it stays cleaner and it doesn’t matter if you start with the darkest values first. I find that placing my darks early ensures that the painting has the depth it needs to look dimensional and to capture strong light. I focus on the negative shapes and am careful to retain the whites of the paper for my strongest highlights. It certainly is not the only way of working, but it is a viable alternative for those artists who wish to create a bolder, more graphic look in their work. I will be teaching this method of working in my upcoming course this fall at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. It is called Watercolor: Pure & Simple and will emphasize the above concepts with a focus on drawing and color mixing. Whatever medium you choose, a good accurate drawing and clean colors will make your work shine!

 


Plein Air Workshops in NYC… Come Paint With Me!

June 1, 2013

annebalcony

Choose from these dates & locations:

June 22 – Washington Square Park, 10 am to 3 pm (Saturday!)

June 25 – Madison Square Park, 10 am to 3 pm

July 9 – Central Park, 10 am to 3 pm

August 20 – Bryant Park, 10 am to 3 pm

August 27 – Bryant Park, 10 am to 3 pm

Cost: $100 per session, $90 if you sign up for 2 or more sessions and register by June 10  (does not include transportation, transportation is on your own)

If you’ve ever wanted to try painting outdoors in an urban environment, but felt intimidated, these workshops are for you! I will show you how to choose a location to paint, how to set up, how to deal with onlookers and do a painting demonstration that fully addresses composition, color, perspective and changing light. You may work in the medium of your choice and you don’t need to bring an easel if you want to travel light.

Most locations are conveniently located a short walk from Penn Station. Specific information for each location will be provided upon registration. The classes are RAIN OR SHINE–but if you’d rather not paint in the rain, simply come to a class on one of the subsequent dates.

Tuition is non-refundable, no exceptions, but if you find out you cannot attend on the date you originally registered for, you can simply do a make up at a future class (either in this series of workshops or any future 2013 workshop).

Please register by June 10, 2013, for more info, email anne@kullaf.com!