As I am getting ready for lots of travelling and painting outdoors this spring, I’m reminiscing about my last summer’s experience of painting en plein air for the first time. Before last summer, I held a brush outdoors just a couple of times really. This is not to say that I was an experienced studio painter by that point. On the contrary, by summer 2015, I’ve been paining altogether for only about a year, and very sporadically. Still, painting outdoors was a whole new game for me and, last year, I decided to try playing it for real.
Here, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on the last year’s experience, along with some of its outcomes.
The main dilemma I faced when I started packing for last year’s plein air painting trip – and the one which would largely determine its outcome – was: What kind of painting equipment to take? The choice was between oil paints and watercolors – the only two painting media I’ve tried up till that point. After some contemplation, I settled on watercolors, and was later very happy I made that choice.
There are several reasons why. First, using watercolors meant I didn’t have to deal with any of that oily messiness and stainyness, or prolonged drying of my paintings after they were finished. Given the fact that we moved around from one place to the other every week or so, I really appreciated carrying around only completely dried paintings. The second and related reason to the first one was the lightweight character of my outdoor painting products. It’s basically just sheets of paper, rather than wood panels or canvases attached to stretcher bars. This meant I could easily truck my paintings around all summer long, by putting them in a little folder and sticking them into my backpack. Finally, the third and the most important reason for favoring my watercolor choice is that it made me improve my drawing skills and precision more than I believe oil painting would have.
To clarify, in watercoloring, once the paint is applied to the paper, there is very little one can do about possible mistakes one makes. That’s why one usually first carefully draws out the underlying structure of the painting and only subsequently applies the paint over it – knowing that every brush stroke will be traceable. With oil paining, on the other hand, one can always make changes as one goes on. That’s why one can easily start painting with oil paints from scratch, as most do, and correct potential drawing mistakes later by painting over them.
So, while oil painting basically allows you an infinite number of alterations of your work of art at any stage of the process, watercolor doesn’t. This is why I considered the choice of watercolors to be a better way for me to improve my drawing and painting skills. It meant consciously making things harder for myself in terms of education and easier in terms of transportation.
So, these were the pros. The main con of working with watercolors was that I had no one to show me how it’s done, so I was figuring it out on my own – for better or for worse. I hope one day in the future, I’ll get a chance to work alongside an experienced watercolorist maestro, to pick up some tips.
Still, I think watercolor was the way to go for my first plein air painting experience, as I learned a lot in the process, and came back home light and clean. In fact, I liked it so much that I’m planning to do the same this year – with some added gouache on the side, which I recently discovered and absolutely adore.
Before this year’s plein air paintings start rolling in, however, I’d like to share with you some of the results of my last year’s efforts – in order to put things in better perspective and allow you an insight into my learning process. So, here they are, in chronological order: