Plein Air Situations

Dos and Don'ts for Beginners, and a Painting-day Travelogue

This month I would like to talk about painting outdoors and two different types of situations for plein air artists to try. First of all, painting with a group of friends: it’s a good thing to do, the camaraderie alone is usually worth the trip out into the field. Then there is the added benefit of getting a different perspective on painting from other accomplished artists. I don’t care how seasoned you are as an artist, you can always benefit by seeing how someone else approaches painting, because it's always different from what you are doing and helps to shake things up a bit. These little tidbits that you pick up along the way go into the ever evolving artist that you are. Groups like this are good to join if you can get an invite. Even if you are not friends with artists in the group when you start out, you soon will be, because it’s just the nature of things when you have a lot in common with others. One word of caution for beginners, though: it’s one thing to go along with a group of artists and pick up ideas, but an entirely different thing to go along expecting a lesson.

Let’s just say that going painting with another experienced artist, or group of artists, is not the venue for you to set up behind them so you can copy what they are doing. It can be annoying and you might not get invited back. You have to remember that most artists are willing to share ideas in a setting like that, but it is not a free workshop either. Your main purpose is to paint from nature and work from life and that’s what you should be doing. Afterwards if you want to look at others’ work and ask questions or make comments on what they are doing, no problem, it’s all part of the group experience in painting.

One group that I belong to and paint with on occasion is the “Plein Air Painters of Utah.” This particular group is an organized body of painters who occasionally show their work together at different art venues. The group gets together regularly once a month. The nice thing is they are open to others outside the group coming along and being part of the experience. Membership is by application and not easy to get in, but there is always the open invitation to paint with them. Another group I paint with is from the Ogden and Cache Valley areas, which is a lot more loosely associated. We get together, mostly in the warmer weather, on a weekly basis and it’s a great bunch of painters to be with. We always stop for lunch and good conversation before heading out for the afternoon painting.

It’s nice just to get off by yourself and get lost in the scenery and atmosphere of the chosen site. Most of my excursions out into the open are in natural settings, but recently I made a trip to downtown Salt Lake City to see what it had to offer along the streets and byways. This was a day I didn’t have commitments until that evening, so I took TRAX downtown and painted on the street. One thing about taking public transportation is that it is impossible to retreat to your car and forces you to experience the sights and people along the way. My day was filled with a lot of walking, but I stopped and painted wherever the muse struck. My first stop was the Galivan Center, where I painted a small study of the street with all of its bustle and variety. One UDOT worker made me chuckle when he tried to pose on the back of his truck before I even started to paint. By the time I was ready he was gone down the road.

Then I was on to the Beehive House on South Temple where I met Bob, a homeless guy who was very entertaining company while I painted. I was even offered a dollar bill by a young boy whose Mom must have thought I was the local street entertainer. What a hoot! After helping Bob secure some lunch, I moved down through Main Street catching all the sights and taking a few pictures along the way for future reference. Eventually I was able to make a quick stop at a local sandwich shop before making my way over to the City County Building on 5th and State. There I was able to capture one more small study before having to catch the TRAX back home for my evening appointment.

What a day it was! Lots of people stopping by to talk ranging from business people to homeless men and women who were all interested to see what I was up to. All in all I came away with 3 street studies, lots of sunshine, good food and interesting company, not to mention sore legs and feet from all that walking along with having to run to catch the TRAX as it pulled into the station. Thinking back, it was my kind of painting day!

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