Search This Blog


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Painting, Actually

Actually painting out of doors

The flowering plein air phenomenon is a wonderful thing. Some ambiguity hovers around what it means to work en plein air—are you really painting out of doors, are you painting what you are seeing, are you painting what you are seeing in Valenciennes’ two-hour window of time—but there is an obvious love of the act of being on site and capturing the world. I don’t see, though, much discussion on the various websites and blogs about painterly technique, partly no doubt because, without consensus on how much one is expected to capture, there is no focused idea of how one does the capturing. So I’m posting here some details of relatively recent plein air work from Rome and Lazio that shows my brushwork, which is for me the essential aspect of what it means to paint—as opposed to render—what one sees. As Diderot said:

"The value of creating resemblance is passing; it is that of the brush which causes us first to marvel, and then makes the work eternal."
—Denis Diderot, "Salon de 1763"
(Le merite de ressembler est passager; c'est celui du pinceau qui emerveille dans le moment et qui eternise l'ouvrage.)

Over at Emulatio I’ve posted details of some studio work, to facilitate a comparison (or to suggest that I work similarly inside and out). I welcome comments on each site.

Columns Near the Theater of Marcellus, Rome

Ponte Sisto, Rome

Vignale, Civita Castellana


  1. About technique ...I paint a ground of undertones...say umber or Sienna...on a several panels and let them thoroughly dry. Then use these for plein air painting. I may then select and set up several views and paint throughout the day ...then return for maybe several days and see and paint the change ...David Pearson.

  2. I'm a big advocate of painting within the two hour window, and not returning to the same scene (even though the light can be fairly consistent in Italy from one day to the next). I guess for me its partly the challenge, and partly the spontaneity--and the notion that the plein air work is meant to be a sketch, an elaborate "field note," and not a "finished" landscape.