Thursday, 18 August 2011

Guest Post by Painter, Nicki Ault, 'Painting en Plein Air'

This month's Guest Post is by Nicki Ault, a Canadian artist whose work I have admired ever since I came across her blog, where she charts her journey as an artist into ever more exciting territory!

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.

  “Seeing The Light”, 2001

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!

“Feathery Pine”, 8x8”, 2010

Other cons of plein air painting might be the difficulty of editing the visual information, the challenges of transporting wet work, painting in conditions where the light changes, or the frustration felt if something has been left behind at the studio (like a palette- doh!).

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.

Another obstacle can be the weather. I recall one winter day when I had been painting in the snow. As the temperature dropped with the passing afternoon the paint began freezing on my brush and at that point the session ended.

   “Ice, Water, Snow, Frost”, 7x7”,  2010

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.

   “Rained Out”, 24x24”, 2001

For me the pros of painting outdoors outweigh the cons otherwise I wouldn’t bother. I love being immersed in nature while I am working. I love the sights, the sounds, the smells and the fresh air. I enjoy the exercise as I hike with my supplies to find a perfect location and I always feel a sense of adventure with each experience.

Sometimes I find dramatic evidence of nature, like bones,

or sweet signs of nature like a nest of eggs hidden in long grass. 

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.

“Find What’s Not There”, 10x10”, 2009

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.

   “Alone With The Sky”, 6x6”, 2011

    “Ending”, 6x6”, 2001

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:

“The new type of artist… puts on the outfit of the bushwhacker and prospector; close with his environment he paddles, portages and makes camp; sleeps in the out-of-doors under the stars; climbs mountains with his sketch box on his back.”

Out on Valley Road - 10" x 10"

Thank you to Judy who asked me to write a guest post about my interest in painting en plein air; it was fun to look back at my experiences. 

I hope you enjoyed my stories and images.



Judy Adamson said...

And a big 'thankyou' to Nicki for sharing your adventures and for providing us with so much eye-candy!

art2cee2 said...

I so admire people who paint...plein air! I love the Nikki's paintings. In Va. the summer is just too hot to paint outdoors and the bugs, well, I guess I just don't like bugs, so I don't do much painting outdoors.

Barbara M. said...

Love this post and Nicki's work.


Judy Adamson said...

Hi Crystal - it's years since I painted outdoors. The deer trying to eat my watercolours finished me off. But I think Nicki gains a lot from her bravery!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Barbara - nice to see you over here and I'm glad you enjoyed this post, as well as Nicki's lovely work!

Flora Doehler said...

Nicki, I love your work and really enjoyed your comments about the challenges of Plein Air painting.

Nicki said...

Hi Crystal, I am so glad you like my paintings. Bugs are a definite deterrent to painting outdoors. If there is a time in the spring or fall that is better, you should give it a whirl!


Nicki said...

Thanks Barbara! How fun to see you here!


XO Nicki

Nicki said...

Hi Flora,

Thank you! I'm happy you took the time to read my guest post.


Carol said...

I can relate with others. It is murderously hot in Florida and the humidity literally drips off your face. I'll have to wait for winter.

Loved your story and wonderful paintings!

Nicki said...

Hi Carol,

Whew, yes, it would be difficult to paint outdoors in that blistering heat.

I'm so pleased you enjoyed my words and my paintings. Thank you for swinging by my Facebook Fan Page!


Gexton said...

Welcome! I hope that anyone with an interest in Art, Design or Illustration will find inspiration or answers (or both!) here.
Edmonton Painters
Painters Edmonton

art classes melbourne said...

Thank you for the amazing share!! It was a commendable post!! Keep it up!