Last weekend I ran a free workshop for anyone who wanted to experience painting outdoors (or “en plein air” if you want to use the true art term). About 30 people attended, including fellow artist Hettie Rowley who provided drawing advice and a useful critique at the end. We couldn’t have picked a better day. It was sunny, there was a cool breeze blowing, and there were just enough people about for it to be not too crowded or noisy.
After a quick demo everyone found a buddy and set up on the beach or the grassed area and sketched, painted, and photographed for the rest of the morning.
For many, it was a new experience. As you can imagine it’s easy to be quite comfortable at home in our studios, painting away in the air-conditioning or heating, listening to some quiet music, and sipping on our cup of coffee while we paint happily away.
But outdoors it’s different. Imagine this: You’re outdoors, you find a great subject to paint, so you set up your area. There’s no table so you put everything on the ground. You plonk yourself down, open up your sketchpad and get your painting gear out. You get your water container ready and prop it up into the sand. Then the breeze picks up and blows sand into your paint palette! You need to wash that off so you stick the paint brush behind your ear while you clean your palette. You start painting. Onlookers stroll by and make interesting comments like “ooh, you’re painting”! And you feel like saying “Really? What gives you that idea”? A seagull hangs around waiting for food. Cute, but distracting. Then it brings its baby which wants food too, and squawks like it’s being strangled! Even more distracting. The breeze drops and the sun is slowly shifting, and you’re starting to get sunburnt, but you don’t want to leave your spot because you haven’t finished painting the fantastic scene you’ve started. Finally you get up awkwardly because you’ve been sitting in an odd position for a couple of hours and in your awkwardness you trip over your painting gear, knock the water container over and splash your masterpiece!
The funny thing is, outdoor painting is such a wonderful experience that you want to go back and do it again and again. And it doesn’t matter about the wind, the sun, the flies, the onlookers and the whole inconvenience of it all. There’s just something exhilarating about being an artist out in the elements. Perhaps it’s because you feel like a true artist – like a Van Gogh or a Monet or a Turner – studying subjects, capturing moments, and subconsciously creating visual memories which you might use later on in your home studio. I recommend giving it a try sometime.
By the way, I’ll be running another outdoor workshop soon so watch out for further news….