Painting En Plein Air

Wendy Wacko, the owner of Mountain Galleries in Jasper, Banff and Whistler, is a firm believer in painting outdoors. She invited me to come to Jasper and Banff to paint for her galleries so that I could develop some paintings ‘en plein air’. In contrast to painting from a photograph, when you are in nature the colours are so much more vibrant, the shadows have more depth, the shapes and contours of the land are easier to decipher, and the light is ever changing. Wendy told me that not every painting you do en plein air will be a master piece, but you will develop more expression in your style and a better sense of colour and light.

I have painted only a handful of paintings en plein air before this trip. It has been so exhilerating to be outside painting the Rockies. It is so different from painting indoors. Your paint dries much faster so you need to use more water, which in turn disolves more pigment filling my paint strokes with whooshes of intense colour. The paint dries so quickly that the painting takes on a different texture than in a studio painting. It has more hard edges, spontaneous brush strokes, broad gestures of suggested shapes. There isn’t time to get wrapped up in little details when you are painting outdoors so the paintings are more spontaneous, fresh and loose.

One of the tricks is trying to get a massive mountain onto an 11×15 sheet of paper. Often I would set out to paint an entire ridge and end up with a painting of one peak! When I tried to paint Lake Louise I even ran out of room for the water, the most important part!!

The landscape in front of you is gigantic and sometimes it is difficult to wrap your mind around the shapes. You look up trying to make out a crack in the rocks, you look back at your paper and you wonder ‘where is it supposed to connect?, which ridge meets up with which?’

Painting en plein air in Jasper and Banff was a fabulous experience and I will definitely be painting ‘en plein air’ again in the future.

Filed under: Paintings.

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