Painting snow, en plein air

Plein air painting, is a term used to describe a painting done outside/on location rather than in a studio. The term comes from the French en plein air, meaning ‘in the open air’.

So, I’ve dabbled with plein air painting on and off for the past few years.  It wasn’t until recently, probably within the last two years, that I started painting en plein air on a regular basis and making more of a “serious” effort towards being a better plein air painter.

The benefits of painting en plein air, finally seeped through that hard head of mine.  I’m seeing how this is all intertwined and helping to make me a better painter in general.  The benefits of being there, feeling the elements, seeing the color, seeing the way light plays on everything, seeing the form and making quick decisions on drawing, studying value, color, and composition…..I get it….these are all necessities for a good painter.  Painting en plein air forces you to make decisions and go with them.  I feel like it makes you really study your subject…..really open your eyes and see.  Because of that, I notice that I pay a lot more attention to subtle color changes and how colors relate to each other.  I started paying more attention to colors in shadow and reflected color.  I have noticed that I have started finding myself looking at things during my daily wanderings and thinking to myself, “how I would mix that particular color?”.  Hmmm, wonder if other artists find themselves doing that?  I’m sure they do….yeah, that has to be a creative brain thing…….  ummm, right?

Oh, and hey, by the way, snow is really all white, right?  I finally had a chance to get outdoors and paint snow en plein air.  Unfortunately, every chance I got to get out and paint it, it was on an overcast day and while the fluffy stuff was still falling.  I tell you this because that day, snow definitely wasn’t just white.  I found grey and blue and in some cases purples in the snow (we won’t talk about the brown and yellow snow that I found in horse pen).  I also found that laying straight titanium white down just didn’t get that “snow” look that I was looking for.  I always mixed in one of the above colors or lemon yellow…..yes, a yellow.  I found by doing this, I was able to get more of the true look I was seeing in front of me.  I found that I was able to give more form to my snow.  After all, it did have shadow, mid-tones, and highlights (not much since it was overcast) but, it had “shape”.  This “shape” makes it more believable.  For example, I had to make it look like “a blanket” on top of the haybales and “pillows” on top of the old parts tractor.  I probably wouldn’t have noticed all of this had I not set up and painted with my subject in front of me.

So, getting out in the cold, braving the snow, wind, and sleet…..so worth the knowledge.  I will admit, I truly didn’t feel the cold while I was painting except when I started to notice certain colors “froze” quicker than others.  My white was a very, thick, gooey mess by the time I was done.  As I get out and paint in the elements, I’m also learning what types of clothing and supplies are a must and what I can leave at home (remind me to tell you about my alpaca socks….they rock!).  I’m also learning how to lighten my painting pack.  …..watch for future posts on that.

I have a long way to go with this “plein air thing” but I feel like if I learn one thing from each painting or each outing, I’m winning!  Some days I learn I should wipe off the painting and just pack it up for another day but hey, it’s all good.  No worries!

Here are three of the paintings that I did during our snow this year.  I think you can really see the gray and blue in the snow on the “Parts Tractor” painting.  The other two paintings look as though I used straight white but there is a subtle yellow and grey in them.  I think they just look true white because of the colors around them.  It’s all relative, right?  I feel like the form of the snow puffs is more believable in the tractor painting.

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2 Responses to “Painting snow, en plein air”

  1. Tori J. Says:

    Your paintings are beautiful! Thank you for inspiring me 🙂

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