Summer just invites you to be outside, no matter what you are doing. And if you are an artist or an artist-wanna-be or just a dabbler, you might get the idea to try en plein air art. En plein air is french for ‘in the open air’. It is typically used with painting, but can be applied to any type of endeavor. The key is to do your art outside!
I belong to a small visual journaling group, and the next few months we are going to be doing plein air sketching. Going out into the public and drawing. Yikes! People will be able to see what we are doing! It is a bit scary and intimidating, but also a great opportunity to try something new and different for most of us.
I’ve seen artists out in public working on their art and I am always in awe of them. My first inclination is to assume they are a ‘real artist’ (and whatever that entails) and that they obviously know what they are doing and they must be good at it to be doing it in public! I have a tendency to think that I would like to try it someday – far in the future – when I maybe know what I am doing – when I am a ‘real artist’ too. But there is No Way I can possibly do it now! What if somebody saw what I was doing? What if they watched me work? What if they made comments about what I was doing? What if they tried to give me advice? What if they hated it? What if they liked it? What if….?????
Aw, but drawing or painting outside can be wonderful! The raw experience of being outside and being creative, of using the natural light and shadows, just can’t be duplicated. It is a way of really and truly trying to see what you see, and then creating some wonderful piece of art at the same time. A chance to notice the textures and colors and lines and shapes and shadows, and how they are connected and related to each other. You can’t help but come away with some newfound knowledge and inspiration. Just get past the fear (I know, easier said than done), and go for it!
First thing is to decide what medium you will be using. There are many options for you – pencil, chalk, charcoal, water-color, acrylics, oils, inks, etc – so find one that you enjoy and are comfortable using. Gather up all your supplies and get them ready in a good carryall tote of some kind. It is a good idea if you can have a separate bag or tote with your plein air supplies, so it is always ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Next find a spot to set up in. You could scout out spots ahead of time so you know where to go when you are ready. Do you like to be out in Nature? Or maybe a more Urban setting suits you? Do you want to draw or paint people or animals or buildings or flowers? All of these should be thought about ahead of time, so you know where to go for the best results. Will you be taking an easel with you, or a chair and umbrella, or some other props, or will you be relying on using what is available on location? Are you planning on going with other artists or by yourself? Will you be able to work all day or only a few hours? All of these things are important considerations for planning your en plein air experience. (of course you need to remember to bring water and sunscreen and appropriate clothing and maybe a lunch or snacks)
Now you have your supplies ready and have scouted out your location and are ready to go! YAY! Set up your work space and decide which direction to face and what you are going to do. Really focus on what you are seeing. Remember you don’t have to paint everything you see. Focus on the composition details. Select a focus point for your piece. Keep in mind that the light will change quickly throughout the day. You may want to have several canvases going to capture the varying stages of light throughout the day. This is especially useful if you can go back to your spot several days in a row, and continue to work on the various pieces as the light changes.
I have a feeling that en plein air artwork is one of those things that you either love or hate! But if you don’t try it, you won’t ever really know. I’ll keep you posted on my own experiences with it.