If you can paint en plein air, you can paint anything else you can draw.
|Teddi-Jann Covell, me, and Truth Hawk model appropriate gear for winter painting. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.|
In some of our coastal harbors, plein air painting approaches performance art. We spend more time answering questions than we do painting. For new painters, that can be unnerving. But Rockport is the least-visited, most-beautiful harbor on our section of coast. In Rockport in March, our only visitors are people eating sandwiches in their trucks, or the occasional dog-walker. That makes Rockport the perfect place to start the new painting season.
|Finished paintings by students Mary Whitney and Teddi-Jann Covell. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.|
This post revolves around the photos; I wrote it largely for the amusement of my southern readers, who perhaps can’t conceive of painting in freezing weather. And yet it’s done regularly, not just here but in Vermontand upstate New York. My friends in Greater Rochester Plein Air Painters are already out testing the ice at Mendon Ponds. And they’re probably already out in Indiana and the Cascades and, for all I know, in Anchorage, AK, too. Plein airpainters merely tolerate indoor painting; our brush hands are happiest outdoors. It’s all about the right clothing and materials.
(By the way, while being physically fit makes plein air painting easier, physical disability is not an absolute barrier. I’ve had students with walkers in both my weekly classes and my annual workshop. We just select more accessible painting locations.)
|Ed Buonvecchio with two pro tips: insulated LL Bean boots and his cap over his toque. You need a warm head and a sun visor in late winter. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.|
Like most art students, my painting education was skewed toward figure drawing and painting. I grew up thinking the human form was the apotheosis of painting. Since the Renaissance, the western art canon had a hierarchy of genres, which rated the importance of pictures as follows:
- History, including all that allegorical stuff;
- Genre painting, or scenes of everyday life;
- Still life.
|Robert Lichtman doubled his hat too, but was able to paint bare-handed. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.|
If we were to draw up a modern hierarchy it would probably read:
- Abstraction (a big label including a lot of categories)
- Outsider art
- Representational art
- Plein air
|Finished work by Colleen Lowe, Ed Buonvecchio and David Blanchard. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.|
And yet, having worked in most of the traditional categories, I think plein air is in fact the hardest form of painting. It requires the painter to pull one big concept out of a vast landscape, and stick with it. It teaches you to simplify, simplify, to focus your view, and narrow your goals.
|Mary Whitney painting harbor ice. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.|
I have a current student who didn’t realize this would be primarily a plein air class when she signed up. I have no problems encouraging her to stay. When you master en plein air, you can then paint anything else that you can draw. The reverse is decidedly not true.
A note: For those of you who have been following the fortunes of the waterlogged dinghy in Rockport harbor, it was off its mooring yesterday. It may have dropped below the surface, but since the harbormaster is resetting the buoys for spring, I think she probably brought it in.