How To Find A Landscape Style That Expresses Your Style En Plein Air Defined, An Explanation of Plein Air and Alla Prima Painting

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En Plein Air Defined, An Explanation of Plein Air and Alla Prima Painting

“En plein air”, the French term, means to paint outside in the open air. Painting everything in one sitting whether in the studio or outside is called “alla prima”. Most plein air painting is done in one session, at first, but some artists continue to work on a single painting for more than a day. This direct approach to painting was first made by the French Impressionists. Until this time, painting was done in the studio over a period of time, often a romanticized view of nature. The ‘experience’, their ‘impressions’ of a scene is what the French Impressionists were after.

The camera was developed at this time. This gave artists an additional tool, both good and bad. They could paint their “feelings”, but still represent details in a painting. Some artists did and still do a lot of detail in their paintings. The buying public often thought that a detailed painting was a “perfect” rendering of a scene. The artist can give a feeling of painting and a soul that the camera cannot capture. For the last 150 years art has oscillated between “feelings” and “impressions” and slavishly rendered details.

Most artwork is somewhere in between. It can be a big scene or an intimate detail to express your “feelings”. When you communicate through art you can look for color, texture or contrast. The eye is usually attracted to light values. To follow through with your idea, you’ll first need to simplify, remove everything that isn’t necessary. After deciding what your focal point is, you’ll look at the scene. This simplifies colors, details and values. The large masses are the basis of its composition. Then you consider various design elements in the composition.

Once you are ready to start painting, most artists use thin paint to block the paint. Some schools of thought block in the dark first, others paint colorful shapes, side by side. Then, you’ll move on to refinement and detailing, which is a personal preference for the artist. The brushstrokes and/or the spatula in the refinement of the painting are as individual to the artist as the calligraphy. This helps define the “style” of the artists, which is another matter.

When I’m painting outdoors, I feel a rush, an excitement that I don’t normally get in the studio. This helps give my paintings “feelings” and an “impression” of the scene. The decisions I make help, or sometimes fail, to convey those emotions to the viewer.

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