For the latest in news, shows, upcoming events, new works, contests and special offerings… sign up today for John’s Newsletter.

John's Blog

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Field Study

How does one become an accomplished landscape painter without direct study of nature? The simple don't. Painting and sketching directly from nature is probably the most important tool of the landscape painter.

The tradition of actually painting en plein air (in the open air) began in the mid 1800's as paint became more transportable and less susceptible to drying out. It was an American portrait artist, John Goffe Rand, who invented the collapsible metal tube in 1841.
Constable, Corot and Daubigny were all at the forefront of painting on site as preparation for the larger, more resolved studio works.
Corot, in fact, never considered his plein air work as finished work and therefore never exhibited them publicly until late in life...and I think then...only because others who saw the work were so impressed that they encouraged and insisted that they be shown. Times and tastes were changing also, as evidenced by the rise of Impressionism. The quick sketch, directly from the motif, somehow captured the immediate, the essence, in a way studio paintings could not.
Early in my fine art career, it was Tony Eubanks who exhorted me to make plein air painting a regular practice. My very first time out, I was amazed how gray nature was compared to the bright palette I normally used as an illustrator. I couldn't believe it. Everything about my work changed from that first day.
I actually stumbled upon my current way of working in the open air when I wanted to capture something very quickly. I had some paper which I taped to a board, and began painting. Upon completion, I painted a rough border around it to finalize the composition and came to realize this was a great way for me to work. Also, painting on paper took up little space and they were easy to file. I soon found 3-ring binders that held sheets 5.5"x 8.5". So now almost all my outdoor work is done on these sheets, covered with one coat of gesso, and filed in notebooks. I'm currently working on my tenth notebook. Each book contains 100 paintings. There are exceptions of course when I do paint larger works on location, but these small works on paper are the norm.
I basically view all the plein air work as an opportunity to learn and thereby improve the studio work. The most important thing for me is to accurately capture the correct color and value relationship between the sky and land mass. It seems a correct balance here makes a painting look natural, true to nature. It's a huge goal for all my studio make each painting look and feel very if it was painted on location.
The studies are filed in the notebooks by date. Each painting will have pertinent information noted: location of the painting site, time painting was done, weather conditions and direction I was facing, palette of colors used and with what color the paper was toned if applicable. Finally, I also include where a photo of the scene may be located in my files: photo (P), slide (S), or digital (D).

If you would like to receive my monthly newsletter, please click HERE.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Plein Air Painting

Has plein air painting become the new impressionism?
When I began my fine art career in the early 80's, Impressionism was all the rage. Galleries began identifying their artists as Impressionists and artists did the same, whether they were impressionists or not didn't matter. Just about everything became impressionism.
Are we seeing the same today regarding Plein Air?
Jean Stern, Executive Director of the Irvine Museum in Irvine, CA says just about as much. In an excellent article titled "Plein Air Painting: A Vehicle, Not a Destination", published in the Summer 2011 edition of Plein Air Magazine, Stern writes..."Quite often, as seen in countless art magazine advertisements, the legitimacy of plein air painting has been subverted to accommodate those who seek to appropriate the popularity and commercial success now attendant to that designation. Today, there are many who describe themselves as 'plein air painters' who, in fact, are not."
We've all seen photos of artists, standing before the motif, with a highly detailed painting on a large canvas...clearly suggesting that the work was done en plein air.
Plein air painting has become a badge of honor, a status symbol.
As Mr. Stern points out, "Plein Air is not a philosophy and it is not the artist's Nirvana. It is not the end product. It is, in fact, the beginning."
I believe, of course, it can be the end product but as Stern further points out, "It is tempting to keep painting the small, carefully observed, brilliant little jewels that tend to sell well, and unfortunately, many artists do just that. The plein air sketch confirms its reason for being when it leads to a refined, studio-painted final work."
Plein air work is an absolute necessity for any landscape painter, but as I have seen many times, it can be a crutch that the artist leans on, giving them a sense of security and accomplishment, when in reality there exists an inability to go beyond the sketch toward the creation of a highly refined studio painting based on that outdoor work.
I have always viewed my outdoor work as a way to learn...a way to improve the studio painting. It seems Jean Stern and I are on the same page.
"Once an artist has achieved a practical proficiency in painting outdoors, after meeting the artistic challenges as well as the natural inconveniences, it is time to use those sketches to fulfill the promise of plein air and paint the large, final work in the studio."
And the learning goes on, and on, and on...

(Excerpts from Mr. Stern's article are granted by permission of Plein Air Magazine)
For subscription information, please contact:

Interested in outdoor painting: Outdoor Painters Society

To receive my monthly Newsletter, click HERE


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Workshop: Value and Color

Just completed teaching my third workshop of the year...3-days of instruction in Wichita, KS.
One of the nicest compliments I received from this workshop was from one of the students who said she had attended the workshops of several "big name" artists...and my workshop put them all to shame.

Attending the workshop: L>R—Jan Butler, Jim Cruse, David Cass, Mary Binford Miller, Dena Griswold, Carole Ranney, Chuck Roach, Shari Bevan, Virginia Grass Simmons, Nancy Whitaker, Marty Ferguson, Sam Criss, Carol Davis, Jessica Vega, Becky Price, John Pototschnik. (Not pictured: Georgia Abbott)

What a wonderful class of fifteen students and credit goes to Mary Binford Miller for her hard organizational work.

The workshop began with a lecture in which I presented the six foundational principles necessary for the creation of a quality painting...clear concept, well designed composition, sound/accurate drawing, simple value structure, beautiful color harmony, and technical mastery.

Kissed by the Sun - 12"x 16"

Following the opening lecture, I created a monochromatic painting of Summer's End, using raw umber. It was similar in technique to the painting above, Kissed by the Sun.. It is important to realize that it is value that establishes the painting's mood. In the afternoon, the students followed my lead and produced their own value paintings.
Day 2 began with an intensive lecture on color. This was followed by application of color to the monochromatic painting done the day previous. Using titanium white, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow medium, and lemon yellow, I produced the demonstration piece below.

Summer's End - 9"x 12"

Day 3 was all about the students applying the principles taught and creating their own inspired works. I am proud of what they were able to accomplish.
Mary Binford Miller's beautiful little painting is shown below.

Gypsum Hills Morning - 9"x 12"

To receive my monthly Newsletter, please click HERE.