Tag Archives | Artists

Some confessions of a ‘plein air’ painter!

The greatest studio an artist could ever wish for is the great outdoors!

An old painting showing a plein air painter at work

Plein Air by Ramon Casas i Carbo c 1891

Why ‘Plein Air’ Painting? What’s the big idea?

Artists have for centuries wanted to get outdoors and set up their easels and work outside under the hot sun and the brightest light that exists. This is when colours are at their strongest. For court painters and those with wealthy patrons, who could supply staff, this was possible, but not common. For most artists it was impossible to carry everything needed, and then to have to mix his paints, from various earth pigments, usually in powder form with Linseed oils, or even egg tempera, it was just not practical to do this in the field. What changed all this, was when pre-mixed paints were put into little lead tubes, A whole rainbow, of colours, well not quite, but that’s for another time, could now be easily taken outside to be used, and the french impressionist painters who we all know and love today, were the pioneers of this. Here is a picture of an early plein air artist at work about 1891.

O.K. So our artist has arrived, and set up his equipment, its a good warm and dry day with a cloudless sky, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, almost everything actually!

View of Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia, North Wales. before the rain.

At Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia, before the rain!

Irrespective of the view, every day Is different. The light is different and it changes constantly, throughout the day and as ‘light’ is the vehicle through which we see, every time the light changes, so the colours change and the contrasts or tones change. At the same time, clouds are forming and moving across the sky, often very quickly. This in turn affects the light levels and changes the cast shadows, not only their shape or intensity, but their colours as well. Add to this, the fact that the light source also moves steadily throughout the day and well, I think you’ve got the picture!

Then someone comes up and says “That must be so very relaxing, painting” Ugh! If I had a £ every time someone said that!

So whilst I’m working at my easel, painting in a ‘relaxing’ manner, inside my head, all this is going on, how to cope with changing conditions, I can’t change with the weather, or the shadows will end up in the wrong places and at the wrong density. or the colours on  the ground won’t match the sky. Errors like this have caught out every artist from time to time. its all part of the learning experience. I hope you can’t spot any errors in this painting of mine, painted at a favourite spot in North Wales, where it usually rains.

Q Are you an artist who has tried plein air painting? I’d love to hear your story! 

Artists need to be Masters of Deception – True or False?

Jan Van Huysum Still Life

Jan Van Huysum Still life of Grapes and a peach on a table top

When you look at this painting by Jan Van Huysum what do you think makes it work?

Q Is it the apparent realism of the subject matter, the fruit looks juicy and real and ready to pick, or is it the composition, the positioning of the light source, or colour choices, or even the textures?

I think it works because the artist has succeeded in fooling us, the viewers, into believing that the fruit are really there, on the table, full of juice and ready for plucking!

Don’t the green grapes appear to be in front of the Black ones, and the other fruits? The leaves at the top also appear to be behind everything else in the painting. Of course it was actually painted onto a flat piece of stretched canvas or board using oil paints at the end of the 17th Century. The artists skills of deception are clearly working here, the use of strong light in the foreground allows strong rich and warmer colours to appear to bring forward the green grapes and orange fruits and these help the darker fruits and leaves to recede into the distance.

Clever isn’t it!

Deception – is the language of the artist. It’s their job to make us feel we are in the painting, ready to pick the fruit. Similarly with a landscape, the use of aerial perspective, sends the mountains back into the distance and a closer focal point will be painted with stronger colours and sharper lines to catch the eye and draw the viewer into the painting and allow them to be enveloped by it.

Llanberis Pass North Wales.

Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia, North Wales Watercolour

Its no secret that during the war, artists were selected to design fake vehicles, tracked tanks, aircraft and artillery etc. to fool the enemy and also to design camoflage schemes, to hide troops in the field, and even battleships whilst at sea. One of those artists was Edward Seago. Another venue for the artists skills of deception is the theatre, where the sets have to present vast open landscapes, or huge Egyptian temples, yet they are frequently located on a small stage with many differing lines of sight, from up in the gods, down to the front stalls, and even in the boxes at the sides. If you want to study perspective and how it can fool the viewer, get invloved with your local theatre, climb on the stage and see deception at first hand. The artists skills there will amaze you.