I’ve heard of certain art described as being painted “in the style of plein air”, but that description describes nothing, because plein air is not a style. Some plein air artists paint in a more abstracted style, and some paint very representationally. Plein air painting, by definition, is painting in open air, on-site. It describes an activity as well as the painting produced during that activity. Plein air artists focus on capturing some aspect of the actual fleeting light. Usually the subject and the artist are at the mercy of the elements and the environment, but there are no rules — if the weather or bugs are nasty, the artist might paint from inside his car. But very little, if any work, is done in the studio. When invitations are given for plein air works to be formally shown, usually the requirement is that most of the painting have been done outdoors, on site, from life, anywhere from 80% of the painting painting en plein air, to the purist’s position of 100% painted on site.
As for my plein work, occasionally I will correct a shape or add a detail in the studio, but usually my plein air paintings are fully completed outdoors, on site. Like many plein air artists, I have many plein air paintings stacked in my studio that for one reason or another, I consider unfinished, or with which I feel less than satisfied as far as the painting representing my impression of the scene and setting. Some have compositional problems, because in addition to the value patterns showing the play of light, there are so many design elements to consider – line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, as well as the compositional principles of balance, rhythm, and harmony.
So this week when I was chased back indoors by some biting yellow flies, I worked in the studio, making a few corrections to a plein air painting I had produced in a Laurel Daniel workshop this spring. I removed a pesky, distracting “V”, made the greens more yellow and less green, and I added a little more light in the background, and a red boat shape. The composition is more effective now, and more clearly represents my impression of the morning view, except for the boat of course, which simply adds interest.