One of my most memorable times last summer was driving the “mule” deep into the Virginia woods to paint ancient rock formations. I had a student of mine aboard who had an injured foot and could hardly make the three-quarters of a mile trek to our destination. The “mule” as it was called, was actually an all-terrain vehicle that let us go along rocky paths and over small logs in addition to letting us turn tight corners. Perfect for carrying an injured student as well as heavy art supplies. Best of all it was red. When we arrived in the morning the day was cool with a threat of rain but we quickly unloaded. So many places to paint! The group quickly broke up and found unique things: moss, ferns, old rock, flora, and even small caves. Everyone did something uniquely their own and slowly things began to appear on the painting supports.
That was until the rain came. Soon after lunch, a dedicated few returned to our spots. The rain, light at first, did not detour us. We were so involved in the painting process, we were determined to continue. In fact, the more the rain fell the more determined we became. Entire watercolor paintings were literally washed away. The oil painter (at this point only one) faired better but only her painting. The best thing about the day, and the reason it remains my favorite memory of the week, was that it best summed up what plein aire painting is all about. It is about being out there thinking, witnessing and observing nature in all her sweet, light, pretty days and all her damp, wet, moody days. It is not about getting the perfect painting or being able to finish everything you start. It is about the doing, the going, the exploring. It is about the art of being there and looking. The fact that paintings were gone in a downpour did not change the fact that making them was just as gratifying as making one that remained intact. That looking at the forest in the rain was just as wonderful as looking at a lake in the bright sunshine.
There are many reasons to paint outdoors. Some artists use it as a way to rejuvenate themselves, others use is a starting point for a later work and still others use it to improve their skills by forcing themselves to work quick on their feet. Some simply want to drink in the beauty of nature, to find fresh, evocative, inspiring and challenging subjects; to spend time in the quiet places; to capture the liveliness of birds or the grace of a red fox; to learn about your environment. And some, like us, will be painting outdoors to explore creation.
Why bother painting outdoors when you can just as easily take a photo back to your nice, warm, cozy studio? Because in addition to the many reasons above, painting from life is fundamental and essential to the growth of any realist painter. Turning a three dimensional scene into a two dimensional picture is a basic skill that any artist should have before they call themselves an artist of any genre. Without it you are simply working from hearsay.
Once again we are headed to Shrine Mont for the Art and Soul Conference. Where new places will be discovered and explored, new paintings painted and new bonds formed. Whether you paint with discipline or as a hobby, all are welcome. Join us. For more information visit Shrine Mont and download the brochure. http://www.shrinemont.com/v.php?pg=26