What He Sees.
|oil on gessoed card, 18x36cm|
If you paint en plein air anywhere in Italy but the remote countryside, you will be the subject of conversation, either directly or in passing. While painting on a winter’s afternoon along a high-traffic path into one of the smallest gates in the city walls of Lucca, I overheard this exchange between a mother and her young daughter:
M Look, that man is painting.
D What is he painting?
M What he sees.
That, in nuce, is what plein air painting is. Painting what you see. The challenge, of course, is that you can’t paint all of it, certainly not in a limited arc of time. So you focus and choose, from the moment you choose the subject to the aspects of what you see that you can or should include in the painting.
The scene I chose to paint is something I thought I could accomplish in roughly an hour. While I have long held to Valenciennes’ two-hour limit, I’ve found I tend to pick too-ambitious subjects to realize in that time, so now I’m aiming for an hour, which forces me to choose simpler, clearer subjects. And even if I stretch over the limit I’m still within a relatively small arc of time—more important in the seasons when the day is shorter and sun moves faster.
Compare this with a similar, albeit longer, view from the summer, to see the difference in hue of the sky, the trees, even the walls. The summer view was a July morning.