Here Nicki tells us about her experiences of painting 'en plein air' -
In 2000, after taking drawing classes for a couple of years, I decided I was ready to try painting. I thought I would kick start things by signing up for a week long class called “Painting Fairy Island” at the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus. This is a satellite campus of the University of Saskatchewan and is located in the boreal forest 2 hours from Saskatoon (Canada).
The class took place in both a studio and outdoor setting. I loved the idea and I fully expected to love painting, however, I realized on the first day that I might be in over my head! I didn’t even know what to do with my obediently purchased gesso! By the end of the week I was frustrated and disappointed with my lack of skill and understanding. I didn’t feel very good about painting. What I did feel good about though, was the “en plein air” (outdoor/open air) experience.
As a child I loved exploring forests, trails and meadows. I loved catching frogs, swimming in lakes and biking to secret places where I would sit quietly and think. With the discovery of plein air painting it was as if my two lifelong loves, art and nature, joined forces and opened my eyes to something new and exciting. With determination I went back to the Kenderdine Campus the next summer and happily had an “A-ha!” moment while on a painting excursion at Spruce River, P.A.N.P. Things were beginning to gel with painting and the joy of the plein air experience grew even more.
As with anything there are pros and cons to painting outdoors. Probably the biggest con for me would be the bugs. I recall one outing when I accidentally set my easel up on an ant hill. Not fun. At all.
An entirely different time I was wrapped up in my painting and absent-mindedly sipping my coffee. I kept spitting out little bits, but there was a busy squirrel in the trees above so I thought it was tiny pieces of bark or pine needles that had fallen down on my travel mug. Eventually I took a break to analyze my work. At this point I paid a bit more attention to the coffee I had been drinking only to discover that it hadn’t been tree debris that I had been spitting out, it was in fact... ANTS!
Although purchasing the equipment for plein air painting can be quite a costly venture and therefore a con, it doesn’t have to be. I painted five small paintings this summer with my palette in my lap, holding the board in my hand all while sitting in an Adirondack chair at the beach.
The summer of my “A-ha!” moment I was tackling a large canvas and things were going really well, but I could see dark clouds approaching. I worked fast, but finally when they were overhead it was a downpour! My acrylics began bleeding before I could whisk the canvas to the truck. I went back to the studio and put on a few finishing touches and this painting is one of my all time favorites. This is where a con can also be a pro. The changing weather and light can actually push you to work quickly and not fuss as much as you might indoors.
Sometimes I find dramatic evidence of nature, like bones,
Other times I find humour, like the ninja squirrel -
- who zipped around me and my easel this one time at art camp. Here is a link to that story.
Aside from coming up with an exciting painting infused with the experience of that particular excursion, for me the greatest pro in plein air painting is the adventure and the stories I can tell later. It all makes me so happy.
When I am outside painting it is one of the times that I feel the most me. It is not for everyone, but if you have always wanted to try it I hope this post has inspired you and I hope that painting directly from nature will give you tremendous joy.
I will leave you with a quote I found at the Art Gallery of Ontario this spring in the section of the gallery housing the work of the Group of Seven. It was written in 1926 by Fred Housser, a Toronto journalist:
I hope you enjoyed my stories and images.