Artists have been capturing landscapes for centuries, but before the late 1800s it was more common to do a rough sketch outdoors and finish the work in the studio. Outdoor painting gained momentum when Impressionist painters emerged from their studios. They painted outside, amidst nature, because they wanted to capture the effects of sunlight at different times of the day. It has been popular ever since. Today, the term Plein Air painting (from the French term “En plein air”, or “in the open air”) is used by artists to describe the art of outdoor painting, capturing landscapes and views in natural light. Notable plein air artists include Claude Monet, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keefe, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Plein air painting offers possibilities artists can’t find inside the studio, but it also requires specific skills, equipment, and techniques. Artists must be responsive to the ever changing landscape and adjust to changes in light and weather. When you’re out in nature, the possibilities are endless, and it can be difficult to know where to start! However, intimidating it may seem, plein air painting also offers endless opportunities to develop new skills and grow as an artist.
For some examples of contemporary plein air work, we turned to John Haynes and Doug Woodman. John and Doug are artists and instructors who recently taught a plein air painting class at Gamble Garden. They shared some of their works with us along with their favorite subjects and locations.
John Haynes has been painting for around 50 years. Before his retirement, he taught painting for 37 years at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo. Today he fits painting into a life filled with gardening, housekeeping, children, and grandchildren. He continues to take commissions and sells his work at independent sites and galleries. Look for John at the Palo Alto’s First Congregational Church Artisans’ Bazaar this November!
John started out working in mixed media, but switched to watercolor, which has been his medium of choice for the past 30 years. The painting below features a barn that John painted from a photo. John is constantly taking photos when he is out and about for reference. He frequently photographs potential subjects and paints them in his studio.
For John, any location can be a potential canvas! The painting below features a street sign that John saw on a visit to Scotland.
While he doesn’t have a particular favorite location or subject matter, John does love reflections and layered images. His fascination with what’s reflected versus what’s real has led him to paint a number of storefront windows showing contrast between inside and outside.
Doug is a retired physicist/engineer who has been drawing since childhood. He has been painting for the past 7 years and works mainly in oil. Doug is an avid plein air painter who goes out to paint at least once a week and attends workshops and conventions several times a year. His works have been exhibited at the Pacific Art League and University Art.
Doug has attended painting workshops and conventions around the country, so he has had the opportunity to paint a variety of landscapes in San Diego, Santa Fe, Tucson, Seattle and more. Doug loves painting coastal landscapes, so the Bay Area offers numerous points of inspiration. “We are so lucky to live in this area,” he says. “Wonderful scenes abound everywhere within a two hour drive”. The painting below was done at Pt. Joe on the 17 mile drive near Spanish Bay.
Some of Doug’s favorite locations to paint are Pt. Lobos, Garapatta Park, Bodega Bay, Carmel and Monterey. The painting below was done at the Monterey wharf at 6:30 am, just as the sun was starting to come up.
When Doug started plein air painting he became aware that he wanted specific features in his equipment that were not available commercially. So he designed his own. Word spread, and artists began to ask Doug to build custom equipment. He started his own company, ArtEscape, to provide custom equipment for artists. Doug took his years of experience at Lockheed Martin in leveraging advanced technology to ramp up ArtEscape’s production capacity with minimal effort. He uses the latest 3D printing technology to rapidly customize and produce his own designs. This allows him to serve the artist community and establish relationships with talented artists all over the world, without sacrificing his own goals as an artist.