Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Houses on a Hill"


6x6" oil on Gessobord

These houses are a few blocks from my house. I painted this with a single large brush. I was thinking of painting something Valentine's Day related but I just couldn't make it happen. Happy Valentine's Day anyway! On another note....

The Plein Air Question

When I first started painting I was told that you shouldn't paint from photographs. I read this in books mostly. I've continued to hear this over the years and I'm wondering how painters and collectors feel about it. 

I've painted countless paintings en plein air and I don't think they're any better than the ones I've done from digital images. In fact, they're usually not as good. Some plein air painters talk about capturing the smell of the salt air or the sound of the wind through the pines in their paintings. That hasn't happened for me.

Others will talk about there not being enough information in photographs. "The shadows are too dark" or the "lights are blown out". That may be true for prints but not on a computer. You can boost or reduce the exposure in seconds.

Another argument is that plein air painting forces you to paint looser and more spontaneously. I'm not so sure about that one either. I think looser paint handling comes with confidence and experience (and a desire to paint in that style of course). I think how one handles the paint has more to do with personal choice than the environment in which one paints.

The way I see it, plein air painting is a lovely way to spend some time outdoors (as long as there aren't any bugs and it's not too hot, cold or windy). It's especially nice to do with others. I don't think it makes a painting more valid. Digital photography is just another tool.  It allows us to capture and paint moments that we wouldn't otherwise have a chance to paint. I suppose some folks will disapprove just as some disapproved of paint in tubes. "You must grind your own pigments and mix your own colors or it isn't art!!" 

Ok, I'm thinking too much. I need to get out of the studio, maybe I'll go do a painting outdoors. But I'm not expecting it to be a keeper.  Oh yeah... and I'm bringing my camera!!


10 comments:

Virginia Floyd said...

I enjoyed reading this post, Michael. I have read many posts from plein air painters about the cold, the heat, the wind, the bugs...give me air conditioning. I think the camera is another tool to use that wasn't available in the past. Like everything else, there can be a bit of snobbery involved when someone claims it has to be done a certain way.

Greg said...

As a new painter, I have been doing a little reading about painting. Especially impressionist painting which is the style I hope to learn. I was surprised that the early impressionist painters were violating the "rules" of painting. Also, like you, I have read in numerous places that you shouldn't paint from pictures which appears to be another "rule". I did not realize artists had so many rules. I thought art was about being creative. Since I am doing my art for myself, I don't care about the rules, but then again, I probably wouldn't care about them if I wasn't doing it just for myself.

Trevor Howard said...

Michael - I like your comments. The few times I have painted plein air I didn't like it. I love having everything in my studio available and not having to worry about bugs and changing light etc. But about grinding your own pigments... I get up every morning at 4am to make donuts and my own paint! Then I weave my own canvas and go out to find some hogs to pull out hair so I can make a few paint brushes. My art suffers because of all the time I spend doing these things, but it elevates it above artists that actually buy their own supplies! Go natural.

Ann said...

Hi Michael, Like you, I paint both indoors and out. I find myself having to adjust more to the outdoor problems than the indoor ones. For instance, when I paint in bright sunlight, I tend to paint much too dark to compensate. I bring the painting indoors and adjust it. The bottom line for me is: does the viewer "feel" the outdoors when they look at the painting? If they do, and they connect with it, what difference does it make if it was painted indoors or out?

Chris Carter said...

My sentiments exactly. I enjoy both, one neither better nor worse than the other. In my mind, any tool is valid whether it be photograph, computer, salt water or sunshine. There is a time and place for both plein air and studio. I'm grateful for my studio during windy, freezing or buggy weather. I'm grateful for the outdoors when I need to escape the four walls. Thanks for your post.

Nancy Colella said...

Here Here Michael! I agree! I say whatever works - do it!Thank you for addressing this "touchy" issue!

Jerry Stocks said...

Kudos to you for addressing this subject. Let's just paint beautiful canvases and not worry about where they were painted. And I love Houses on the Hill.

Helen Cooper said...

Always in interesting discussion this one. I used to be one of those who never painted from photos. I have since changed my mind, and happily paint from photos as well. There are always those places where for various reasons you are unable to stop to paint, or you see an interesting perspective that is impossible to capture 'en plein air' I agree with Greg.....art is about being creative!

Carol Schiff Studio said...

Great post Michael. I have always painted from photos, my teacher painted that way and passed it on to me. In the early years, photos were not always as accurate, the color was not as good, there was too much dark or light. Now, I paint off my computer monitor and adjust everything to be just as I want it. Perfect!

Denise Rose said...

Hey! I agree with both sides! I love painting plein air and do feel I "see" things out there that I don't see in my photos. However, I also love playing with composition on my computer in Photoshop and since I am also a computer nerd, that is fun for me too. I agree that an artist has to learn the "rules" and then pick out what works for them. I have not had but one teacher in my slew of workshops that has felt their way was the only way, so most artists agree that you have to find what works for you. What you are doing obviously works for you because your work is fabulous!