John MacDonald recently wrote a two-part series called “”On Plein Air Painting” for Inside Art, a daily art newsletter by Streamline publishing. John’s work is currently featured in Lily Pad | West’s exhibition “Tonalism Now,” on view through June 25th!
In part one of this two-part series, artist John MacDonald writes about the difference between painting from photos and painting from life and about how to get out of our own way when confronted with the vast treasure-store of the great outdoors.
Painting plein air is substantially different from painting in the studio. Painting in the studio is like cross-country skiing. It’s deliberate and methodical. We take one step at a time with our focus on the far destination, a goal that is often visible during the entire, slow process.
Plein air painting is skiing downhill at a blistering pace on a narrow, twisting run that always seems to be rated one level above our ability. It’s risky and unpredictable and crazy and frequently ends in crashes that are anything but pretty. So why do so many representational painters do it?
There are probably as many reasons to paint plein air as there are artists. All my reasons can be reduced to this: painting plein air is unparalleled training for the eye, the head, and the heart.John MacDonald, “On Plein Air Painting,” Inside Art, Streamline publishing. May 24, 2023.
In part two of this two-part series, artist John MacDonald writes about turning failures into wins and learning to love the process. Part one was about the difference between painting from photos and painting from life and how to get out of our own way when confronted with the vast expanse of the great outdoors.
Paintings created en plein air fail at a much higher rate than studio paintings. There’s no avoiding it. But it’s tough to fail. No one enjoys looking like a rank beginner. Failing repeatedly gives our self-confidence a thrashing and then goes for our jugular as it inevitably evokes anxiety and fear.
It’s precisely when our paintings fail that we can learn the most and plein air painting is a brutally honest teacher—it takes all of our artistic limitations and sticks them in our face. If we can manage our fear and continue to paint honestly, then our failures will help us become stronger and more skilled painters. And then they’re no longer failures.
Painting outdoors will invariably attract the curious. Occasionally, at the end of a conversation (hopefully brief!), a bystander will say something like, “But even when a painting doesn’t work out, isn’t it great to be outside in this beautiful scene?” Yes, it truly is.John MacDonald, “On Plein Air Painting,” Inside Art, Streamline publishing. May 25, 2023.