185: Plein air revolution

I’ve been searching for a way to simplify and streamline painting in the field. My oil painting gear has expanded to the point I feel I’m on safari for even the most impromptu forays. And I’ve lost much of my original impetus for painting en plein air–which was to record the effects of nature rather than create gallery worthy paintings in the field.

In such a frame of mind I encountered James Gurney’s newest video Watercolor in the Wild (available from his website on DVD$US 32, or by digital download$US 14.99). In addition to being one of America’s foremost oil painters James Gurney has a rare gift for defining artistic problems and articulating solutions. In this latest offering I found what I was subconsciously yearning for–a means to recover the fun and immediacy of plein air painting while fusing my love of drawing and painting. 

In this 73 minute video Gurney shows how to simplify plein air gear to the bare essentials. He uses a combination of pan water colors, special mechanical watercolor brushes you load with water or inks (I didn’t know such brushes existed), along with graphite and water-soluble colored pencils. It’s an ingenious fusion of techniques that allow the seasoned painter, as well as the neophyte, to come to grips with the often maddening complexity of plein air painting.

The ideas in the video promise a return to the roots of why I started painting in the field–to absorb the beauty of nature, record its fleeting effects, and use the sketch to enhance my studio paintings. If you’re looking for a way to revitalize your plein air efforts or need a bridge between your drawing skills and your ability to paint out-of-doors you might want to try this method with me. I will share my efforts in future blog entries.



Brad Teare–August 2014

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Updated: 3rd December 2020
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