Some tips on choosing a scene to paint ‘en plein-aire’ by Tony Westmore, professional founder member.
Try not to spend too long looking for the perfect subject matter, it is often said that it is better to paint ‘effects of light’ on a subject’ than to paint ‘things and views’.
When in a new area it can sometimes take a few days to get accustomed to new scenery, you can spend more time looking at subject matter than actually sketching or painting, but hopefully the appetite to paint it will come. Take a camera and capture some detail of potential subject matter, if the inclination to paint doesn’t happen you will have these to look back on in the future. It is worth remembering that our tastes for subject matter also change over time, indeed if we are all progressing the way we should be our ideas of subjects will change also.
Look for the large light and dark masses, and think of the way these shapes look together. Look for a combination of three or four of these tonal main shapes and masses, preferably of varying sizes, that when combined that can make a decent composition.
A lovely quote from Kevin Macpherson :-
‘A good Representational picture is built upon a strong abstract design’
Remember we are constructing a puzzle when we paint a picture, and we are making the pieces for it.
John Singer Sargent’s way when out to paint in an area was to find a comfortable place to sit, then when he was settled he would look around for a subject – perhaps don’t take it to the word, but it is always worth remembering. The simple subjects can sometimes be the best.
Try and keep out of direct sunlight when painting, light reflecting off of a white canvas can make it difficult to create the actual value and colour in your painting. For this reason it is sensible to work on a toned canvas that suits the subject. In finding a nice effect of light on a particular object or subject, get it down quickly.
Monet noticed that light changes every six or seven minutes but more generally light can be stable for about two hours. This is a sensible time scale to work in. Capture the fleeting glimpses of light, the things that attracted you to the scene in the first place, get these down first, perhaps the figure that may appear just where you want it, or the shadow that enhances the scene – work on these areas before they change. Speed, together with accuracy is essential when out, so try to work quickly, before the rain comes or before the light changes too much.
Happy Painting – Tony Westmore