Studio Painting vs. Plein Air Painting:
My wife and I had been living in Camden, Maine for about a year back in 1990. I was relatively new to painting full-time and up until that time I was strictly a studio painter. We lived in the woods and our little neighborhood shared a large pond that resembles the pond in the movie On Golden Pond. I had been developing romantic notions of painting plein air (outside on location) with a French easel, utilizing real light, experiencing nature first hand and coming home having created something special.
My wife Jen would remind me of what a “deliberate” painter I was and with her uncanny knack of predicting an outcome, she warned me she didn’t think plein air painting was for me. Deep down I thought she was probably right but it was something I just had to try! Jen’s mother, who follows my art, liked the idea and bought me a beautiful wooden French easel for my birthday that winter.
Come spring time (it was probably closer to summer time because spring is really mud season in Maine) I packed up my new outdoor easel with paints, paint thinner, rags, paper towel, a trash bag, brushes, palette knives, and a palette and headed through the woods to the lake. It was a beautiful sunny day, the geese were back on the pond, I couldn’t wait to start painting.
The telescopic legs of the easel easily planted themselves in the long grass by the dam creating a nice level canvas overlooking the panoramic view. The lighting was perfect. I laid out all of my paints and started painting. I noticed that by the time I’d penciled in the drawing on the canvas that the wind was starting to blow a little. All of a sudden the lighting had changed a little and I started thinking I better start slinging some paint. Getting slightly irritated that my canvas was moving with the wind, holding it with my left hand and my brush in my other hand, I didn’t have another hand to swat the black flies that were biting my face! When I put down my brush to get a paper towel to wipe the blood off my forehead, I noticed bugs were sticking to the paint on my palette and on the canvas. When I picked the bugs off the canvas, I had to repaint the muddled mess.
As my dirty paper towels blew out of the toppled trash bag and I grappled to hold onto my wet canvas (that was way too large and acted as a sail) the sun was going down. In Maine the sun sets early. It was already time to fold up the French easel, head home and critique my afternoon’s efforts.
It was crap! My wife was right. I was way too slow a painter to be productive employing plein air painting. I told her of the bugs, the wind, the canvas that was too large, the changing light etc… and we had a good laugh over what a fiasco it all was. The next day I went down and sold my French easel at the local art supply company and headed over to Samoset Golf Resort and bought myself a new pair of golf shoes with the money from the French easel!
That was the beginning and the end of my plein air painting. Although since then, I have bought a new French easel for painting in my studio and for holding paintings that are drying. In the back of my mind, I still have a few romantic ideas about painting outside but there is something to be said for controlled lighting, no bugs, no wind, a comfortable chair, music and a hot cup of coffee.