Recently I fell victim to the argument that a plein air painting has to be painted entirely outdoors. I knew better than to believe this nonsense. And anyway, who cares? And is it any who who matters? But for whatever reason, I bowed to the pressure. This is the story of that painting.
I most enjoy working a bit large, so I took my 24x48 canvas out to the dunes, my favorite place to paint. I started at the end of July. The marsh and dune grasses were still green. I chose the two hours before sundown when the shadows create interesting patterns on the dunes. I was off to a good start.
Life intervened in August and I had to leave for a month. When I returned in September, I had to wait for good weather- we were in the afternoon thunderstorm pattern of late summer on the Gulf. When the weather cleared, I returned everyday that had similar light to my start. By now, the grasses were turning brown and gold. Fall is my favorite time of year to paint the dunes so I didn't mind adding the colors. I also had to start arriving earlier with the days growing shorter.
So, after 5 or 6 two hour sessions, the painting now stands 95% complete. So far, it's been completed entirely on the spot. I don't need to return to complete the remaining 5%. When I finish it, can it still accurately be called plein air?
At this point, I really don't care. I did learn some interesting things though.
1- As usual, there's no substitute for painting from life. I was able to amend some earlier studio works with the lessons learned from this painting.
2- It really wasn't necessary to haul such a large canvas out there. If my objective had been to gather information, I could have done 5 or 6 small quick studies and combined them in the studio. But then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of the salt breeze on my skin and the sounds of coastal birds and surf.
3- I still prefer the results of a large canvas painted in multiple sessions mostly on the spot. to the less informed works painted quickly in one go.
4- And yes, something large can be painted entirely outdoors if one feels the need to.
For more thoughts on the debate about the definition of plein air, read Eric Rhoads publisher's letter in the November 2014 issue of Plein Air Magazine. His is exactly my opinion too when it comes to defining what a plein air painting is.
How has this debate impacted your work?