En Plein Air

Posted by oklahuma@yahoo.com on 7/5/2013 to Art Tips

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En Plein Air

If you're at all familiar with art techniques, you've probably heard the term en plain air, which is French for "in the open air." Or to cut out the pretension, we'll just call it painting outdoors. Several years ago, PBS offered an excellent six-part series called Plein Air: Painting the American Landscape. It acquaints viewers with some of America's most acclaimed contemporary plein air landscape artists as they provide insights into the movement through their individual styles and techniques. We were just thinking about that series and decided to offer some tips to help get you outdoors and enjoy this summer weather.

Plein air painting became popular in the early 19th century due, in part, to the advent of premixed oil pigments and the transportable box easel. This allowed artists to, as Claude Monet said, "paint the air in which are situated the bridge, the home, the boat." The style has remained popular ever since.

Let's take a look at some of the supplies that might be of use if you want to try your hand at painting outdoors. Yeah, it's summertime and, depending on where you live, the weather may be sublime. But it can be downright sweltering in some parts of the country. Check out the Jullian Plein Air Umbrella with an adjustable goose neck and a clamp to attach to your easel. This can keep you cool and help you to avoid a sunburn. You can clamp it to your Jullian Original Half Size French Sketch Box Easel, which is made of handcrafted naturally dried wood with brass and brass-plated hardware and hidden spikes in the legs for plein air use. Another easel option is the Martin Mobile Bench Easel, which offers a roller board function for traveling outdoors for painting. It's thin, folded design allows it to fit easily in a closet, under the bed, or otherwise out of the way when not in use. A bench and easel that can be folded up and rolled around? Seriously, check that one out.

Golden Open Acrylics remain wet far longer than other acrylics and resist skinning on the palette during long painting sessions and are particularly good for plain air painting. Gamblin FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors offer a fast drying rate that makes them well suited for plein air painters, especially while traveling and transporting freshly painted work. A palette of interest is the New Wave Highland, an ergonomic landscape palette offering soft curves and complete comfort. The palette will fit in most pochade boxes, allowing for ease of transportation and convenience while outdoors.

If this type of painting is of interest to you, you might want to explore Plein-Air Painters of America, a group of accomplished professionals who organized in 1986 and are dedicated to painting on location. You can also check out Plein Air Artists, which is an online artist's co-op for those who paint on location.


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