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Scenario #3: Road Trip or Camping

Your Summer Art Guide. Scenario 3: Road Trip or Camping. Make Art This Summer at ohshepaints.com
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Welcome to Part III of the multi-part guide Your Summer Art Guide full of great ideas to enliven your art practice this summer! If you are looking for ways to get out of the studio and spice things up, look no further!

We recently looked at maintaining an art practice during overseas travel, by using sketchbook and taking great reference photos for painting, and family vacations or cottage trips, by integrating your family and friends into your art-making. Today we’re going to look at another common summer holiday scenario, and a related art practice: plein air painting.

Scenario #3: Road Trip or Camping

Travel style: You’ve got wheels and a trunk!

Luggage: Several bags. Whatever there’s room to throw in.

In this scenario, having a car means that you can bring a few more items with you than you would if you’re backpacking or traveling by plane. You may have room for a portable easel, a palette, and a small set of oil or acrylic paints. This means that, in addition to keeping a sketchbook and taking photographs (see Scenario #1: The Overseas Dream Trip), you can do en plein air (“open air”) studies – in other words, painting outdoors on location. How fun!

A Visual Introduction to Plein Air Painting

Edouard_Manet-Claude-Monet-in-Argenteuil-1874
Here we see Claude Monet painting en plein air in this 1874 oil painting sketch (en plein air!) by Edouard Manet “Claude Monet in Argenteuil.” Yes, it is all very confusing, but a beautiful study!
Manet wasn't the only one painting Monet! Here figurative artist John Singer Sargent has his turn at painting the famous impressionist in his plein air sketch "Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood" (1885).
Manet wasn’t the only one painting Monet! Here figurative artist John Singer Sargent has his turn at painting the famous impressionist in his plein air sketch “Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood” (1885).
"The Artist Painting En Plein Air," oil painting by Paul Gustave Fischer, 1889
“The Artist Painting En Plein Air,” oil painting by Paul Gustave Fischer, 1889. He looks so happy sitting in the woods and smoking his pipe!
Artists competing for a space in Winslow Homer's 1868 oil painting "Artists Sketching in the White Mountains."
Artists competing for space in Winslow Homer’s 1868 oil painting “Artists Sketching in the White Mountains.” Don’t worry, you don’t have to wear a suit!

What is Plein Air Painting?

Just a fancy French term which means painting out of doors or in the ‘open air’. Plein air painting is about getting out of your studio and into the world! Making your practice mobile! Which is perfect for when you are on vacation. In fact, it adds a whole other dimension of meaningful, creative activity to any trip.

Why Paint Outdoors?

There are countless reasons, but just to name a few:

1. Connect with your surroundings.

Painting outside is a wonderful way of connecting with nature or your surroundings. It allows us to slow down and take in what’s around us through close observation, something we don’t often have the chance to do in our hectic lives. The places I’ve drawn or painted on location are etched in my mind. I vividly remember the details of the experience: the kind of day it was, the feel of the air, the sights and sounds.

Tom Thomson, Purple Hill, 1916. Oil sketch on wood panel.
Tom Thomson, Purple Hill, 1916. A plein air oil sketch on wood panel.
Tom Thomson Blue Lake: Sketch for In the Northland, Autumn, 1915. Oil sketch on wood panel.
Another plein air painting by Tom Thomson, “Blue Lake: Sketch for In the Northland,” 1915. Oil sketch on wood panel.

2. The Study of Light.

It also gives you a chance to study the effects of light on your surroundings. These will change with a variety of factors, including the weather, the time of day, the season, and the atmospheric conditions. Painting outside will give you a better understanding of how light and shadow work, which can be applied to your studio practice.

The impressionists were fascinated by light, particularly its ethereal qualities. They were the first group to systematically abandon their studios in favor of painting en plein air. Monet, in particular, was obsessed with painting the same scenes multiple times in different conditions.

Here are four versions of Claude Monet's paintings of the Rouen Cathedral at different times of the day and in different conditions. He painted more than 30 versions between 1892 and 1894.
Here are four versions of Claude Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral at different times of the day and in different conditions. He painted more than 30 versions between 1892 and 1894.

3. Direct painting.

Plein air paintings have a fabulous fresh quality that is difficult to achieve with a more labored painting. That said, your beautiful paint sketches can, of course, be used as studies for larger works done in the studio. This is what Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven did, as well as Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla. But their plein air paintings, loose and lovely, are appreciated as works of art in themselves. In many cases, I actually prefer them.

This directness comes from the application of paint in an alla prima (‘all at once’) or  wet-on-wet technique, rather than working with multiple layers and letting them dry in between.

A fresh beach scene "Dieppe" (1906) done on a panel by Canadian painter James William Morrice.
A fresh and vibrant beach scene “Dieppe” (1906) done on a panel by Canadian painter James William Morrice.
Joaquin Sorolla's beautiful oil sketch "The Sierra Nevada from the Alhambra, Granada"
Joaquín Sorolla’s beautiful oil sketch “The Sierra Nevada from the Alhambra, Granada.”

4. Opportunities for engagement.

When you paint outside, especially if you are in a crowded place, like a local park or a street corner, people will stop to watch what you’re doing and maybe even ask you questions. See it as a chance to engage with your community. Don’t be shy! As artists we are often isolated in our studios, so getting to connect with others is important. If you’ve never done it before, trust me: people are very kind and will be excited by what you’re doing. They may even ask to take your photo.

John Lyman paints the Luxembourg gardens in this oil painting on board "Le Luxembourg, Paris" of 1923
John Lyman paints the Luxembourg gardens in this oil painting on board “Le Luxembourg, Paris” of 1923.
A wooded public garden painted by Joaquín Sorolla (title unknown).
A wooded public garden painted by Joaquín Sorolla (title unknown).

5. Accuracy.

Use sketches in oil or acrylic paint as a form of visual note-taking, to capture not only the quality of light, but also true color and a sense of space. Many people think that a photo is more accurate than the human eye. But the camera, unfortunately, doesn’t see like the eye. It flattens the image and it changes color. It will often darken shadows, eliminating color cues, and wash out light areas. Therefore relying on your first-hand experience will bring more life to your paintings, even if you use reference photos later as source material.

Post-impressionist painting Paul Cézanne takes his color notes and sense of atmosphere from observation in his painting "Mont Sainte Victoire" (1904).
Post-impressionist painting Paul Cézanne takes his color notes and sense of atmosphere from observation in his painting “Mont Sainte Victoire” (1904).

Subject Matter

As you have probably sensed already, painting outside of the studio doesn’t necessarily mean painting traditional landscapes. The subject matter is quite up to you! Here are just a few ideas:

  • old buildings with interesting architecture or other cityscapes
  • seascapes, beach scenes
  • city parks or public gardens
  • outdoor cafés and terraces
  • night scenes
  • your street or your house
  • abstract compositions inspired by the colors or movement of nature

Materials for Plein Air Painting

Generally plein air paintings are quite small, no larger than about 10 x 12 in., but typically 8 x 10 in. or as small as 6 x 8 in. There are no rules, of course. It is mainly a question of transport and of time. It may be difficult to finish a large painting in just a few hours, so keep that in mind.

  • optional: a portable easel or plein air (pochade) travel box. These come in many varieties (see below). If you don’t have an easel, don’t sweat it: paint on a picnic table or prop your painting up with a rock
  • canvas boards, wood panels, or masonite (small & pre-gessoed)
  • a set of paints (the small tubes are great, but if you only have large ones bring them!)
  • a few paint brushes
  • a palette (wood or plastic)
  • containers (yogurt containers for acrylic, or glass jars with lids for oil)
  • soap or brush cleaner; rags or paper towel
  • mediums (taltine or odourless solvent and linseed oil for oil paint). If you are using oil, use a medium (like liquin or galkyd) to speed its drying time
  • wet panel carrier (optional). Many pochade boxes come with a built-in panel holder

Portable or “field” easels come in many varieties, from the classic French easel to lightweight aluminum tripod easels. Travel boxes are often called “pochade boxes.” Each type has advantages and disadvantages.

For a full guide to plein air painting see my upcoming post.

French easel
An example of a French easel. There are many different varieties. They are available in art stores and online.
The french easel folded into a box
French easels fold into a travel box. They have a handle and are easel to carry.
The pochade box
An example of the pochade box. They have a place to store your paints and brushes. They are available at most art stores and you can find them online.

 

Closed pochade box with canvas storage
A closed pochade box with wet canvas storage.
Pochade box on a tripod
A pochade box on a tripod. This gorgeous one is hand-crafted by plein air painter and woodworker Ben Haggett and sold on his website.
Aluminum tripod easel
Aluminum tripod easel. They are lightweight and come with a carry bag. They are often a cheaper alternative to wood easels, but they can be expensive too.

Abstract Painting Inspiration

If you are interested in abstract painting, look to your surroundings for things like line, rhythm and color clues. Take compositional ideas from nature.

Hurvin Anderson's painting "Across the Tracks," is very abstract in its composition, but still based on nature.
Contemporary artist Hurvin Anderson’s painting “Across the Tracks,” is very abstract in its composition, but still based on nature.
Allison Gildersleeve's 2012 painting abstract "Fortress" takes inspiration from the lines and colors of nature
Allison Gildersleeve’s 2012 abstract painting “Fortress” takes inspiration from the lines and colors of nature.
Claire Sherman's 2013 painting "Trees" is highly abstract, but still drawing on nature
Claire Sherman’s 2013 painting “Trees” is highly abstract, while still drawing upon nature for its palette and sense of rhythm.
Ryan Cobourn's "Woods" painting is also highly abstract
Ryan Cobourn’s “Woods” painting is also highly abstract, while giving a strong sense of the dynamism and abundance of nature.

You may be interested in consulting my previous posts on landscape painting – Landscape Painting Tutorial and Landscape Painting Tips – for advice on getting started.

Taking Reference Photographs

Keep my previous tips in mind for taking reference photos, and don’t be afraid to get a few shots from the car window. Combined with a few notes and sketches, these can make great paintings.

Toronto-based artist Brian Harvey has a series of work based on roadtrips, including this painting "Roadtrip I-89A Arizona."
Toronto-based artist Brian Harvey has a series of work based on roadtrips, including this painting “Roadtrip I-89A Arizona.”
Another roadtrip painting by Brian Harvey "Roadtrip - Route 66 Arizona," oil on board
Another roadtrip painting by Brian Harvey “Roadtrip – Route 66 Arizona,” oil on board.

Monica Tap, a contemporary Canadian painter, has made several series of work in which the paintings are based on single, blurred film stills of video taken from cars and buses, which freeze motion and offer a sense of the captured moment. It goes to show that sometimes motion or even graininess in an image can actually serve your work.

Monica Tap, "Between Winter and Summer", 2009
Monica Tap, “Between Winter and Summer”, 2009
Monica Tap, "Polka", 2010
Monica Tap, “Polka”, 2010

Camping

If you are going to be camping here are a few ideas of possible subjects:

  • caravans, tents
  • lakes, forests and mountain scenery
  • the campfire
  • the night sky
  • wildlife
  • canoes
  • your travel vessel
Californian impressionist painter Dag Compeau's plein air painting of a campsite "Dinkey Creek Campground" (2015)
Californian impressionist painter Dag Compeau’s plein air painting of his campsite “Dinkey Creek Campground” (2015).
You can even paint your travel vessel as does Santiago Michalek in this oil painting on panel "'61 Mango Westfalia."
You can even paint your travel vessel as does Santiago Michalek in this oil painting on panel “’61 Mango Westfalia.”

Sketch!

Finally, be sure to bring along your sketchbook! You’ll find plenty of opportunities to sketch or brainstorm ideas while you’re in the car or lounging in a hammock.

You may want to check out my Pinterest collections “Plein Air”
and “Landscape Painting” for ideas and inspiration. There’s something for every taste. You’ll discover many artists who paint the landscape using different styles and techniques.

[pin_board url=”http://www.pinterest.com/ohshepaints/plein-air/” size=”custom” image_width=”100″ board_width=”600″ board_height=”280″]

[pin_board url=”http://www.pinterest.com/ohshepaints/landscape-painting/” size=”custom” image_width=”100″ board_width=”600″ board_height=”280″]

That’s it for now! I hope that your holiday planning is going well. Are you inspired to bring your paints on your next camping trip and try some plein air sketches this summer?

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