Monday, April 4, 2016

What Do I Hope for in a Plein Air Sketch?

Someone asked me yesterday while I was painting plein air at the Temecula Rose Garden, what do you hope to come away with from a plein air painting session?

Well, not a painting. Maybe it is because I am not a fast painter, but the day I let go of the expectation that I was on location to create a finished work, plein air painting became useful to me. 

What I hope to come away with is ... information. Information I can take to the studio and, perhaps along with a photograph, do a finished painting. I don't mean finish the painting. I rarely touch a plein air sketch after leaving the location. The sketch has firsthand, onsite color information that a photograph never captures. A photograph can record the scene to draw from. Color comes from the plein air sketch.

On location, I don't worry about details or even composition. I record relationships between the color spots. What is the color of the light? Which is the brightest green? Is that tree trunk in shadow lighter or darker than the shadowy undergrowth behind it? Record the relationships between the value, temperature and chroma of each color spot. If I come home with that, I have what I need to make a painting.

Plein air painting became a whole lot less stressful when I understood this. You can spend two hours maximum on a plein air sketch. Maximum! The light and color are changing quickly. In two hours you are looking at a different scene that is a different painting. Two hours? Near sunrise and sunset, the light will be different in only 20 or 30 minutes. Capture the relationships between the color spots in that 20 minutes and you are golden.

Here is a 4:00 p.m. oil sketch, 8 x 6", about 20 minutes. Boom. Done. Late afternoon light. Yeah!

Same tree, different day, different time.

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