Plein Air Painting

by | Jun 16, 2023

I have rarely challenged myself by painting outside. In the past, the juggling of equipment, facing the elements and being overwhelmed by all the visual information, made it NOT my favourite way to create. I always feel scattered, intimidated.

Acknowledging this, I dropped in on three of my artist friends who have been meeting weekly to paint in Eaton Park, to find out what they got out of the experience. All of them approached it differently and all rose to the occasion.

At first glance, all three look well-prepared, with hats and cotton shirts for sun protection and well-anchored portable art supplies. They are adaptable, using whatever is available to make their art. They look like they mean business.

Louise Cloutier has commandeered one of the park benches to act as a side table while she works on a portable easel. She usually paints in her home studio using photographic reference for her realistic paintings and arranging the composition on her computer. But there is none of that careful preparation here! She finds painting plein air pushes her out of her comfort zone, forcing her to take risks and be more willing to accept ‘mistakes’. Heat and wind result in acrylic paint drying faster than she is used to. To combat these conditions, I saw that she has a spritzer water bottle close at hand to keep her paint wet. Louise considers her outdoor paintings to be sketches, studies for subject matter she might translate into a finished painting in the future.

I find Archan Knotz perched on big rocks beside the boardwalk looking relaxed, comfortable, and present.  Archan admits making art outside is a completely different experience. Her kit is spare and economical as she has arrived by bicycle. Working with conte and charcoal on paper, she has no expectations on how the art will come out. Creating in her home studio, Archan takes a deep emotional dive into her subject matter, where there might be a tendency to overthink and overwork any given piece. Working outside, she is more spontaneous and just ‘let’s it flow’. She finds plein air helps her ‘get unstuck’, opening up all her senses and her heart to the experience. Just like in life.

Cathy Dalton is an abstract painter drawing inspiration from nature. In Eaton Park she is on her feet, sketch pad in hand, ready for action. To her, painting outside is an ‘art fix’, a learning experience. She thoroughly enjoys sharing the time with other artists while losing herself in the environment. Cathy treats it like gesture drawing – working quickly, trying to capture the essence of what she is observing. Cathy sometimes prepares the paper or canvas with an underpainting in advance, but not always. She likes to let the underpainting, even if it is just the white of the paper, do some of the work, aiming for a dynamic, fresh and very loose image. Unlike Louise, Cathy considers these plein air paintings finished works of art in their own right.

When they are done for the day, these three adventurous women, share their work, discuss progress made, decisions good or bad and commune over art. Not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon.