topiary cats

topiary cats

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Plein Air VIRUS

One day, seven years ago, out of absolutely nowhere I got hit BADLY with the plein air virus.
I had heard about plein air but I had no interest.
It wasn't something I was considering at all, on any level.

And all of a sudden it smacked me so hard I never have and never will recover.

And it has been a downhill journey from there.

Plein air has caused me to spend -literally- hundreds of hours and THOUSANDS of dollars.
Not kidding about the THOUSANDS of dollars. (This includes paying for checked baggage on airplanes which I will almost certainly do again)

To do what?

*Experiment and perfect my gear. (always an ongoing process)
*Make a lot of REALLY BAD paintings. (seriously, terrible)
*Embarrass myself in public, repeatedly
*Get into annoying, scary, and uncertain situations
*Lug around heavy gear
*Waft serious oil painting stench on the subway
*Guilt-trip myself for not getting out as often as I should
*Give directions to way too many tourists who think I am a map
*Get horribly bitten by bugs (until I found the only bug repellent that works...more $$)
*Have to call my paintings "mixed media" due to bug bits in the painting

Plein air, more than anything else- has and continues to teach me more about painting than anything else ever has.

It has taught me to be zen about good comments and bad comments.
Though, to be fair, I have never once received a negative comment while painting.
People think it is cool.
One lady tried to critique me once but I blew her off. I don't need her ego. Or mine.

Every single plein air painting I have done has a story, and it is as much part of the painting as the paint itself.
I remember all the stories from all the paintings.
They are different than studio paintings to me.
I cherish them, even the ones not on my wall.

I have only ever given away three plein air paintings.
It is a very, very big deal for me to give away a plein air.
Two of those people are no longer in my life. (I want my paintings back)

My mantra for plein air is this:

I have to want to paint 
than I care about what people think.

Aside from obvious technique, plein air has challenged me in so many ways.
Because it is HARD.
It is far more difficult than studio painting ever could be.
Even when painting the live model, it is still a controlled environment.

When you are out plein airing, you are standing in your painting.
You have no control over the environment.
You get all your values down, then the damn light changes.
So you have to know how the light will change and plan accordingly.
It forces you to compose.
It forces you to learn how to lay down your paint.
It forces you to make decisions on what is important and what is not.
And you have to make those decisions relatively quickly.

I always feel better about myself after I have gone out plein airing.
Because it is HARD and I have done it.

And I always have the sense that i am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
That every time I go out, I have won the battle of not having enough time, energy, skill, or strength.
That I have, somehow, beaten the odds despite my full time job and raising a child completely alone.
Because I carved out space, time, and money for it over the last seven years.
I made the effort.

Because plein air, more than anything else, has taught me that I CAN, despite everything.

It is obvious that I have 
a particularly fatal case
of the plein air virus


  1. I had to google it... lol :-) But I can see why you love painting en plein air.

  2. I always want to do this. I never take the time. I have no excuse except I guess that I am scared. I have painted plein air only a couple of times. Hmmmm... Seeing you in the snow is inspiring.

  3. Very good post. I love my painting and am honored that you gave it to me. It invokes very fond memories for me too. And finally does cat hair count as mixed media too? :D

  4. Very good piece of writing here, Jessica! It has been very therapeutic for you. I can see why. Being out in nature is the best! I'm so glad you got this serious virus!!!!! Love you.

  5. This sounds cool Jessica... I am glad you carve out the time to do this... xox


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