En plein air

En plein air

The sunny Sunday that we had in February prompted me to take a 500 x 400 canvas board for a walk in the woods together with my pochade, folding easel and chair.

Usually when I venture out with the pochade I paint on the 250 x 200 cm boards that fit inside the pochade, a painting this size can be complete in an hour maximum but that day I took a board 500 x 400 cm and the metal easel to stand it on. In the house I stand at the easel but the lightweight metal easel is not tall enough to stand at so I took the folding chair as a compromise.

I often walk in the woods so I knew where I was headed, a small gravel island in the middle of the stream by the bend. I spent most of the afternoon there, maybe longer, a painting is not a measure of time but that is exactly how long it was. I painted this;

Figure 1 Spring early Spring, oil on 50 x 40 cm canvas.

I always seem to paint a bit looser when I paint outside, things seem more direct and immediate and it is like you are over excited to get painting having had to set up all the equipment, that the drawing stage gets missed. The substitute is a kind of quick measuring with my hands to decide the composition before I actually begin painting, a bit like in the still life class when you quickly decide where best to put the figure on the page, before starting to make marks.

I carried the completed painting back to the car still fastened to the metal easel and adjusted the legs of the easel to wedge it in the boot for the journey home. I transferred it to the large easel and let it dry for a couple of days before I tinkered with it a bit, and that is basically the how I did it.

The why is a little more complicated but not overly so. I had the options of sketching the scene in graphite, watercolour, a small oil or even taking a photograph and coming home to paint from my reference, but I have done all that before. I had seen people do this on reality TV shows and wondered how hard it was, in real life, it turned out to be not that hard. I had also seen photographs of Cezanne and Monet doing this and thought that if I did it I would be able to see for myself if there was any benefit in painting this way. It turned out that there was, it takes away the guess out of the bits you didn’t pay attention to when you were making your reference sketch that you sometimes have to go back to look at when painting on a bigger scale, the reference is right there in front of you.

It was a quiet part of the woods so it was an immersive experience there was no cat to feed, no internet to check, no kettle to boil in fact nothing to disturb the act of looking and painting. It could have been a hundred or more years ago when it was indeed possible to slow your eyes down and look properly and thoroughly at what is staring you in the face. Perhaps that is the true context of the exercise, to be at one with nature a rare slow concentration in these rushed times, I think the painting gives a sense of that.