I am strictly a studio painter, so I have great admiration for plein air painters, those who paint in “open air,” artists who pack up their paints, paraphernalia, and easels and paint outdoors surrounded by nature. This method of painting goes back for hundreds of years, and we primarily think of the impressionists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir as plein air painters, those who embraced the challenge of fleeting light and vast horizons to compose and create their works of art.
Karen Meredith (karenmeredithart.com), a North Carolina artist who enjoys painting outdoors, as well as in her studio, describes the plein air process:
“There needs to be a little adrenalin rush by what I see. It may be how the light is falling, or a play of colors I find appealing. Although I try to keep my rational brain out of my planning at this point, I may consider a scene if it has interesting shapes, both positive and negative. I often use my viewfinder to decide what to include and match its aspect ratio to my canvas. When painting outside I usually take a photo of the scene to capture the shadow patterns, which of course can change in 20 minutes. I will refer back to that photo after the light has changed significantly, so as not to become too confused.
“Once I’ve decided on my subject, I will lightly sketch in the major shapes, using a small brush and diluted paint”, Meredith says. “My block-in’s are sensitive to light and shadows. I frequently squint to keep seeing those patterns and not get bogged down too early in the details.” She says, “My way of approaching a painting is very intuitive and since I don’t plan much in advance I can get into the weeds in the middle of the process. Fortunately, this occurs much less often than when I first began my art career. I do feel that every painting is a puzzle to solve, especially when it’s not working. Most often, however, I tend to get into the “flow” and let the artwork tell me what it needs. I guess one could say that it’s a dialogue, a form of energy that occurs, between the scene/objects, the canvas and paints, and myself. I tend to know what I generally want to ‘say,’ based on what has inspired me…but the specifics are not well defined at the beginning”.
To sum up, Meredith quotes Renoir: “Why shouldn’t art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” Meredith agrees. “I like to paint anything that speaks to me as joy, beauty, and happiness. I just tend to respond to things I consider beautiful.”
So, as I head into my studio today, I know I will not be venturing outdoors to paint anytime soon. But I truly applaud all the artists who have spent hours in nature fusing shifting shadows and changing light into ephemeral paintings, recording our beautiful world for all to enjoy now and over the centuries to come.
Ora Sorensen (orasorensen.com) was born in New York but grew up overseas in such countries as Libya, Turkey, Iran, Holland and Thailand. Her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.