My Second Experiment En Plein Air!

faff’ : intransitive verb – dither, fuss (well ……….that says it all!)

My second en plein air experience was again with the Huddersfield Art Society on a painting day looking across the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from the Baking Club House and Longfield Gallery. The day was (mostly) dry and the scenery lovely.

View of YSP from Longfield Gallery

I was captivated by the curve of the field (and the friendly cows coming to investigate what we were doing) so started pretty quickly, setting up my box and putting paint to a small canvas (20x25cm).

After my last experience en plein air I had made some adjustments to my pochard box and the ‘stuff’ I carried, but it quickly became evident throughout the day that I still needed to rethink a few things, especially when we had to make a quick dash indoors because of rain at lunchtime (water miscible oils and rain don’t go together – but the water streaks were quite effective!). The main thing I have realised from this is that you need to try a set up for working outdoors several times to gradually get it sorted out in the way you like to work but is still practical. I remember one friend saying it took her about 5 months to get everything how she liked and I can quite understand that now.

For the painting I followed an approach I had seen done several times on Youtube videos but I seemed to ‘faff’ about with the first canvas for a long time, layering the paint in an alla prima way quite thickly. I think partly because the canvas was small I got stuck too early on with too much detail and lost the key element of what had caught my attention in the first place – the curve and folds of the field and the gorgeous gold wildflowers.

Towards the end of the day I started a second canvas board, making much quicker brush strokes and completing it in about 40 mins.

But I just didn’t like either of them! In the end, back at home, I used a palette knife to scrape away most of the paint on both panels, which left a slightly ghostly image. Actually, that was a bit better, but neither still ‘said’ what I had wanted to say about the scene. When they were touch dry a few days later I reworked them a bit to see if they could be rescued….but they are still only just a little bit OK!

However, it was a good learning process and a chance to reflect how it felt after the ‘doing’. I have concluded that I want to experiment with changing my approach for en pleine air, spending more time at the beginning of a session just being in the space, listening to it’s sounds and really looking and seeing. When I go out with a group it might not always be to the sort of landscape I really want to paint, but I want to learn how to use these en pleine air experiences to help me look, and see, and connect with the landscape and then bring out from it the things that most caught my attention, rather than just copying a view in front of me.

Later on I did a quick sketch of a view that did speak to me and, for me, visually explains what I was experiencing during that day.