Monday Morning Art School: ten great reasons to take a plein air workshop
Plein air taught me more about painting than several years of intensive studio instruction. I could think of a thousand reasons it’s helpful, but here are just ten.
Nature is inspiring.Plein air painting helps us engage with the natural environment. Creation is an unmatched, unique, unlimited subject. Changing light, colors, and atmosphere teach us so much about creating mood and dynamism. Speaking of nature…
Spending time outdoors is good for us. It’s the best thing for my mental health, so I do it every day. It centers me, calms my anxiety, and constantly amazes, even in places I’ve been hundreds of times. Nature is never routine.
We get better at painting. I trained as a figure painter, but I think plein air is far more challenging. It teaches us to simplify, compose, and observe. Meanwhile we hone color mixing, brushwork, and drafting. And if the teacher is any good, we get immediate feedback and guidance.
We make friends for life. I don’t know why I’m so blessed, but I overwhelmingly have great people in my classes and workshops. Workshops bring together like-minded individuals with a passion for art. They exchange ideas, learn from each other, and establish long-lasting friendships.
We gain confidence. Painting on location encourages us to overcome challenges like changing weather, time constraints, and the occasional absurdities of painting in public spaces. That in turn boosts our confidence.
It’s the fastest way to learn how light and shadow work together. Mother Nature gives us no controlled light boxes, so we are forced to learn how natural light interacts with the environment. That ups our color game in ways we can take back to the studio.
We learn to see differently. Working outdoors in the slow lane helps us find unique and often overlooked subjects. These are things we never notice while frantically snapping reference photos with our cell phones.
We learn to make decisions quickly. There’s nothing like rapidly-changing light to help us stop dithering and lay down fast, decisive brush strokes. I’ve found that carries over to every aspect of my life.
Plein air gets you out of your rut. “The rut I was in had once been a groove,” sang Nick Lowe, and ain’t that the truth! Breaking out of your studio offers new ideas, perspective, and inspiration, and pulls us out of stagnation.
Plein air leads to personal growth. Like any serious discipline, plein air painting encourages adaptability, patience, and a deeper appreciation for the beauty of our world. That’s something we take far beyond painting.
A personal note: Joe Anna Arnett was a nationally-known painter, but to me she was primarily a sister in Christ, a generous friend and a wonderful, warm soul. I’m not sad for her; she’s done fighting a long, arduous battle against cancer, and now she’s with the heavenly choir. I’m sad for us, because a beautiful light was extinguished on Saturday night. Rest in peace, dear one.