Color Through You: Two Part Plein Air Painting
By Andrew M. Corley 8/9/2010
Painting outside can be a challenging and aggravating experience as an artist who is accustomed to painting inside. August heat and humidity as well as the insects can be enough to drive anyone indoors, much less the artist who wants to focus on his painting. Despite the aggravations, plein air painting can bring a fresh change to any landscape artist’s style. Often I don’t have the time to do plein air painting, but when I do it has become a treat. Make sure to have a good canvas already primed with an acrylic undercoat, a way to carry paints and an easel. I use a Jullian field easel. Take your paper towels (I pre-rip mine into quarters) and a plastic grocery bag for easy collection of discarded wipes.
In South Carolina, the summer sun creates a lot of strong heat and glare. So it’s important to wear a large, wide-brimmed hat. Normally outside I wear a baseball cap and shades, but when painting I only use my old, green wide-brimmed hat – no shades when painting. Shades mess with my ability to see colors. Although my hat is ugly and silly looking, it provides shade completely around my head and covers my neck in preparation for being outside for long periods of time. My point is, be prepared. Even though I seldom finish a painting outside, I am outside long enough to hurt my eyes and burn any exposed skin.
Step one: Once I’m set up outside, I lightly sketch my scene with a brush. I always bring a canvas that is already primed with an underpainting of acrylic paint – usually a reddish or orange color that will compliment my greenish, bluish landscapes. I usually sketch-in the rough shapes with a brush and then I approach the painting top to bottom with my pallet knife. I usually shift the skyline up when painting outside because I’m more interested in the landscape not the sky. But it’s up to the artist. Once I have my basic landscape mapped on the canvas I finish my sky and block-in colors below. Once I have my sky completed, my landscape is mapped, and the colors blocked-in and mixed the way I want them for later use, I pack-up and head back inside. This step seldom take more than 30-40 minutes.
Step two: Back in the comfort of your indoor studio, you’ll notice that the colors you’ve mixed are pretty strong (caused from the way you see outside in bright light). But stick with bright colors. It never hurts to exaggerate color. Your painting won’t be as you exactly saw it in nature, but it will be more personal and filtered through your own eyes. This is a nice way of bringing personality to your painting. No matter with whom I paint, even if we are painting the same scene we will invariably have different shades of color. Color is very personal. Keep it that way. Finish your scene inside, either with pallet knife or with brushes – I use both. Stick to the mental image in your mind since you don’t have a photograph to go by. You’ll love the outcome and it will be special. Your colors will have an extra pop and your scene will take on jewel-like quality as you finish the details. Let your colors remain strong, overworking them too much simply mutes and clouds the hues you’ve captured through your mental eye. Step two takes as long as you want it to take depending on your painting medium and technique.
Slather down with sun block and insect repellant and head out with the paints. Have fun with your summer plein air session.
PS- Don’t take food. It draws more insects.
Here are a few of my favorite colors that will help your plein air paintings pop:
Cadmium reds, Naptha red
Anthrquinine blue and Cobalt blue
Pthalo green and Hookers green
Lots of white!
For shadows – try different shades of purple instead of muddy-brownish colors.