At the Heart of Plein Air Painting

Unlike Realism, Modern, Contemporary, or Impressionism, plein air painting is not a style of painting. It could be considered a tradition in this sense: Traditional art is art that is part of a culture of a certain group of people, with skills and knowledge passed down through generations from masters to apprentices. Yes, there are contemporary master plein air painters and plenty of eager students who want to do plein air painting. I think the heart of plein air painting, though, is nature. People who do plein air painting want to be in nature. We want to breathe, smell, touch, feel, and see nature in all its glorious and ever-changing moods.

Yes, nature is moody. It can sparkle and caress your face with the softest touch imaginable. It can threaten and alarm you. It can be somber, chilly, or gloomy. It’s often challenging, and it’s more often delightful.

It’s said that if you really want to know someone (or something), you have to spend time with them. You have to talk less and listen more. You have to look into their eyes long enough to know what color their eyes are. Nature reveals itself to those who pay attention and listen. It wants us to look as deeply into the shadows as at the light.

I painted the small section of California Coastline (Point Lobos State Park near Carmel) you see in the above painting while vacationing there. It had been raining earlier that day and the clouds were moving away. I was standing on a trail above the small cove. I could hear sea gulls and watch as they swooped through the air. I could smell the ocean and the California sage brush that covered the ground between me and the edge of a cliff. The ocean water was a brilliant blue that day, and I added some Manganese Blue that I order from the United Kingdom, to my palette of colors to approximate the color of the water.

When I look at the painting, I remember how much I appreciated being able to stand on that cliff and look over a landscape that is in a sense timeless. That experience will be with me always, because I saw it and felt it and painted it. I paint so that I can share my experiences with others. This 6 x 8 inch landscape painting is part of a new collection of plein air paintings that is available now through February 12. See the collection here.

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