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HOW TO ... Get started in plein air painting
Marci Molzan, an employee of the Verde Independent Newspaper, is an oil painter who is also passionate about painting in plein air. This is a 25X34 inch oil painting of Jerome Marci did on location.
8/9/2012 3:39:00 PM
By Philip Wright
COTTONWOOD - There is a lot of talk these days about plein air painting. In the Verde Valley it isn't unusual to see a plein air painter set up along a street in Jerome or Sedona. Plein air events and contests are more common than ever before.
So it isn't surprising for amateur painters to become interested in this form of painting. After all, most books or classes on painting instruct us that the best way to learn to paint well is to "paint from life."
Plein air is French for "open air" or something close to that. It is nothing more than painting outdoors or on location. Plein air painting will work for almost any painting medium, oil, acrylic, watercolor or gouache. Although it is most often associated with oil painting. Perhaps because that was the medium in which plein air got its start, in the mid 1800s.
Although French artist Claude Monet wasn't the first plein air painter, it was his 1872 painting, Impression Sunrise that gave the impressionists their name, and it was originally meant to be an insult. Impressionism was not well accepted within the academic tradition of oil painting.
But it caught on. The people who admired or purchased paintings liked the idea of what the impressionists were doing in plein air.
And so it is today, that people who become interested in painting also seem to like the idea of going out on location - be it their own garden or the rim of the Grand Canyon - to put paint on canvas. It is a great pastime, and you do not have to be an expert or even an intermediate painter to enjoy this hobby.
Marci Molzan, an employee here in the office of The Verde Independent, is an oil painter who also is passionate about painting in plein air.
"Sometimes I combine nature trips with my kids to the
with doing an outdoor sketch," Marci said. "I started oil painting in 1987 in college at an art school."
She attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. She says she has done plein air painting all along, although she originally started with watercolors.
For a while, Marci was fortunate enough to combine her oil painting with her travel. She traveled to and painted in such scenic locations as Taos, N. M., Nevada, Northern California and St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I utilized what I learned," Marci said. "You can paint or draw anything, anytime. I was also taught that you should paint one drawing a day."
She said she hasn't accomplished that yet. But she looks for opportunities.
"I see something that I think, "that's pretty, I could paint that,'" she said.
So far Marci's plein air painting is for her own enjoyment. "I do art for art's sake," she said. "I like being outdoors and I love painting. So I combined both things."
Marci keeps it simple. She uses an easel that her husband made for her. She admits that she takes along a lot of brushes when painting outdoors. "I take a lot of brushes because I have a lot," she said.
She recommends keeping the plein air palette simple, with only a few colors. "Sometimes I premix my colors before going out," she says. But she also mixes on the spot sometimes. She said she premixes colors when she knows what she will be painting that day. Consequently, she has a good idea of the colors she'll need, and that cuts down on the set up time.
Marci likes to sketch her subject before she begins painting. Then, when she starts painting, she likes to do the background first.
"I just attempt to capture something that I'm pleased with," she explained. "I go with it until I'm pleased with it."
Sometimes Marci is able to complete a painting in a single outing. But she says that she will sometimes revisit the same location several times to finish a painting. She likes to paint on larger canvases, such as 25X34 inches. Granted, many plein painters keep their canvas panels smaller to help them finish sooner and use less paint. Canvas panels are available in small sizes such as 6X8, 8X10, 9X12 and 11X14.
"I do sometimes take a painting back to my house to finish," she said. When she does that, she also will have digital photographs of the subject to help her paint the scene at home.
There are some potential problems associated with plein air painting, especially for beginners. Many beginning or intermediate painters are a little timid about having people watch over their shoulder as they paint. Marci says that is normal, and it bothered her when she was getting started.
"I didn't want any negative feedback," she said. "I'm so insecure about the start of my paintings."
She used to go off the beaten path to paint. But she is more cautious these days. "I hiked in and packed everything," she said. "Nowadays I stick to the side of the road."
For those painters who do want to venture off road, Marci cautions to bring along bug repellent, snacks, and plenty of water. She also says to make absolutely certain that you feel safe and comfortable in the area you've chosen. She pointed out that she will check around for bear droppings.
"You want to be aware of your surroundings," Marci said.
Other items the beginning plein air painter likely will want to have along include paper towels and a plastic bag to haul the trash out.
There is a lot of plein air equipment and supplies available, but the beginner would probably be better off by purchasing only the very basics to begin with, then add what you need as you learn what will work best for you.
But the most important thing is to go ahead and get started. Keep it simple, but don't put it off. Painting outdoors is one of those hobbies that you can pursue for a lifetime.
For Marci, her reason for painting in plein air is simple.
"It makes me feel good," she said. "That's what it's all about."
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