Painting outside is not everyones cup of tea.
All sorts of obsticals can easily be found, all a sure way to stay in the studio. So just why do so many artists paint plein-air and rave about it?
I can tell you about my first plein-air experience, it was exciting, hard work and with a dismal result of a painting. Even with all that, I loved it. I came back for more, now years later I still love going into the great outdoors to paint.
What changed you might ask? Why do I paint plein-air ?
It was the realisation that what I was seeing outside left a colour photo print for dead. There was so much more information available to me to use when I painted from life and outdoors. I could see such a wide variety of colour and detail that photos didn't show. Also the tones are vastly different in life than in a photo. There is such subtlety in the shadows to say the least. (Now how that all works is a story for another day.)
A finished plein-air painting seems to have a look and a light in it, that studio work made just from photos can't equal. You would have seen this at exhibitions, art-shows and in the gallery. The work that is painted from life and/or 'en plein-air' is more alive, fresh, vibrant and inviting. This work is so different and easily picked as 'different'. It's in the look and more.
While plein-air painting has 'that look', it has more, it also has a 'feeling' to it. You have noticed that right? Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on but its there. Paintings created 'en plein-air' not only find more tonal detail and more subtlety in the colours, they also pick up, for want of a better word, a certain feeling / emotion that then becomes part of the painting.
Artists react to the energy and or emotion of a subject. This can be consciously or sub-consciously. It is this response to the subject, the artists way of interpreting what they see and feel, which makes a painting stand out. This is the 'why' of painting plein-air for me. It is all about reacting emotionally to the subject and using the painting tools of colour, tone, temperature and so on to describe what I see. It is about getting involved wholly and souly in what you are doing, being in the moment, totally absorbed, reacting, painting. That's the 'why'.
This all comes with practice. Like any 'thing' we do it needs practice, repetition and consistency to go forward. That first plein-air painting expedition I did, was an eye opener. It was hard to see the tones, it was physically hard to cart all my gear a fair distance to the paint site, which I eventually found after walking in circles for ages. My result was a stilted study of colour and tone about a corner of a building. As I said earlier, I loved the freedom of finding this information and continued on with plein-air painting.
There was so much to learn to start with and not a lot of help out there way back then. I'm talking pre FaceBook and YouTube days. Plein-air painting was not popular. It was something that a few did. I learnt form other artists and from reading and doing. Now days we have a huge selection of helpful articles, videos and blogs to show and tell us what we need to know.
Why do you paint 'en plein-air'? And if you don't, it is time to try it out.
There is an article in Australia Artist Magazine this month (August 2019) which I wrote as a guide to getting outside to paint. There are lots of tips and tricks included in this article, all to do with plein-air painting. I wrote it for pastellists but it can be generalised to be applicable to all media. This article talks about what equipment to take out with you and how to start a painting.
Why paint plein-air? Not for any other reason than it will make you a better artist. You will learn to see, to have all your senses involved and bring all this back to the studio then into the works you do. Set yourself up to see what plein-air painting is all about, 'see what happens if...' my fav saying.
Let's talk more about this in future blogs.
best wishes, Karol
"Plein-air painting in a secluded place, out of the wind, in the sun, amongst painting friends, mid week, with nature on show, what more could an artist want".
Karol Oakley Artist and Educator
Pastel painting by Karol Oakley
12 x 9"
ColourFix Original Paper
Available from the Artist
Rotto, what a real Australian name. It cracks me up that most names in Australia are shortened to two syllables and end in 'o' (or 'a') there's Jonno, Rosso, and more. So last week I headed over to Rotto with a group of Western Australian Artists who have an ongoing love affair with this magical Island.
Rotto is of course Rottnest Island, the playground of Perth, loved for its beaches, fishing, swimming and those adorable little mammals the Quokkas for which the Island is named. Rottnest is known as Wadjemup to the first nation local Noongar people.
For the uninitiated like me, when the dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh first landed on the Island back in 1696, he saw these 'huge rats' and named it "t Eyladt 't Rottenest ( "Rats Nest Island") after the Quokkas that lived there. Today Rottnest Island has a history that's well worth learning about. The Island has volunteer guides who's knowledge is amazingly detailed and who are happy to tell the stories of Rotto to visitors.
Our plein-air group had two of these guides, who told some of the stories and shared the best locations for painting. Local knowledge is unique and makes for the best painting trip. Thanks to Sue and Sue for sharing your experience and taking me to some of the more off track locations.
Rotto has a bus service that goes every half hour from the main settlement around the Island, dropping people off and picking them up. We caught this bus to pre-determined locations each day. We did this planning as there was only a short time on the Island and we wanted to make the most of it all.
Plein-air painting does require a bit of thought and planning. Otherwise it's about searching and not painting; how many of you have done this and ended up with a coffee and cake and no painting! Armed with the tourist map and local knowledge, we chose the best places to be in morning and afternoon light, out of the wind, when the wind changes and what the tide is doing, physicality, ease of access, toilets, coffee(only joking), how far to walk; were all taken into consideration for the best painting experience.
Now this particular day we had chosen to go to the southern end of the Island. This would see us out of the predicted wind direction while the colour of the water would be brilliant, and not painting into the sun. So lots of considerations in this painting location, all to make it comfortable while on site. Unfortunately two of our group couldn't make this trek as the long uphill walk, carrying their gear was not on. They stayed in another area and had an equally fine time plein-air painting in conditions that suited them.
Yes I am going to say it was tops! It was. I found a lovely place in the sun out of the wind and did a pastel painting that I was happy with. (see above) Alphonse helped me eat my lunch as we sat with the others looking out to sea. This still makes me smile, that looking out to sea here means the next stop is Africa. How cool is that?!
Plein-air painting can also show some gems of nature. This day we were near an Osprey nest. It's huge, it's old and re-used every year. While painting, and well away from the nest so as not to upset the feeding parents, we had the experience of hearing the birds call as they came into the nest with fresh food for the chick. It was interesting to see that the seagulls arrived first, then the crows, well before the parent with the take away food. Not your everyday experience but i was so amazed and chuffed to have seen this.
After lunch and a bus ride back to the settlement I continued on to do some pen and wash sketches and explore another part of the Island. At the end of the day watching the sunset over the bay, talking about the day, who went where and what they saw and did, looking at each persons painting talking art and more is the best of plein-air painting in a group.
If you are new to Plein-air painting my suggestion is to find a group to go out with and ask questions during a break or afterward. Try it and see how you go.
I'd love to hear your comments about plein-air painting, and how it works for you or what you might find the hardest aspect of going out to paint.
best wishes, Karol
Deciding what to demonstrate is a tough choice. It needs to be something that would be interesting to all , useful to all mediums and of course non-medium specific. I hear of some artists who turn up and start at their beginning, like drawing up and of course that's all they get done in the time allotted. Most people like to get an insight into how you do some technique. Most artists are visual learners, we need to see how its done, telling how its done reinforces this.
A demonstration should be considerate of all who are attending. It should be either a concept explained (with drawings and sketches) or a procedure shown step by step. Most Art Societies like a demonstration that is visual. If the concept is explained with paintings and other graphics it is interesting, not dry and dusty. Most times I will incorporate the concept into a procedure, that shows how to make 'X' happen.
There is a difference between a demonstration and instruction. For the most part here in Australia a demo is an instruction. In other countries it is different. A demo is the artist showing a way of working, with out talking in detail about proceedure and with no audience interaction while they are showing.
I really enjoy presenting a demonstration while being interactive with the audience. After all the audience are other painters, so I'm speaking to my tribe. That makes it both easy and scary. My style of demonstrating is to show a concept, while interacting with my tribe, my fellow painters.
Thursday (July 18) saw Alphonse and I at the Western Australian Society of Artists, the oldest art society on WA. WASA was founded in 1886. I had been invited to demonstrate to the members after the AGM. This demonstration needed to be interesting to all painters, regardless of media used. It also had to take in the range of skills and ages of the members. It is an honour to be asked to address the members , which I take seriously.
My demo was about the concept of Creating Mood in a Painting, then introducing a proceedure to make this a step by step hands on action. I asked the audience questions, had them make choices for the way the demo would go. This sort of interactive demo is not for everyone it's something that has taken a while for me to build my confidence up to. That's what I meant earlier about scary. It is still scary to go out front and talk about what I do, for about 3 minutes, then because I love painting, the nerves go as the love of subject takes over.
When you are asked to demonstrate, think about your audience and yourself as one of them. They are after all your tribe and will understand your language and arm waving gestures.
Well its over a week since I flew out of Brisbane to the other side of the country beautiful Western Australia. The Port Headland pastellists invited me to come teach a workshop for a weekend and of course I said yes. How good is that to be asked to come across to the other side of our country to teach.
Of course when I get to talk to the organisers it is revealed they had been following me on my web and facebook site after getting the rave from the girls in Perth. Thank you Perth Girls. It is a lovely feeling to know that people like what you do and will follow you up.
So Alphonse the Artist Bear and I went to Port Hedland for the weekend where we had a ball. There was an earth quake too just too ad to the big event.
This is the Port Hedland Arts Council Studio where the workshop was held. Alphonse is posing on the easel out front. The roller doors you see here were rattling and shaking when the earthquake came.
It is a very well used venue, and loved by all. It is wonderful to see dedicated buildings by council for the arts community.
The pastel group is active and enthusiastic with one lady driving 100km each way each day to attend. Each person got right in to the challenges set and with amazing results. Some surprised themselves too.
Thank you Port Hedland for the opportunity to be part of your pastel heritage.
This is one of the many pastel paintings that I have done on site. Kings Beach on the Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia. Plein-air painting is exciting and annoying and all the adjectives you can muster. Bottom line is I love it.
There is so much information for any painter out there in the field. The colours are richer and more subtle than any photo will ever show. For pastellists its magic as our colours are mostly ready to use. We have the option to mix or layer colour and can build a painting far quicker than wet media. This has advantages such as the light not moving to far along.
In fact painting from photos now is a chore for me. The information I need to make a good painting is missing. The darks' are too dark almost black. Shadows are dense and tone unreadable. The light areas are bleached out and difficult to read/ find the correct tone let alone colour.
Now while this sounds like a winge session its not supposed to be. There is an advantage to us pastellists though. As we paint plein-air we have an understanding and knowledge of tone and colour in life and can apply this to the photo reference.
So if you have not tried painting plein-air, make a time to try it. Hook up with a friend and go painting or find a workshop showing you how to go about it. If it helps I have a plein-air video coming soon which explains and demonstrates all aspects. As a heads up it is a beach scene which includes water,sand treeline and buildings in a representational style.
This form of painting is invaluable to your collection of information and growth as an artist. What you record on paper, in your mind, in your heart, will stay with you far longer than a photo ever will.
Give it a try, let me know how you get on. Take pastel out into the world and #MakingPastelHappen
Happy Days, Karol
PS If you would like to put your name on a list of expression of interest, for the release of the video please use this button.
This has been a long-awaited project to launch but it’s happened! January 23 was the original launch day with a wonderful response, thank you everyone who popped in to the site and signed in or had a look.
NEW tutorials are available from May 30th.at www.onlinepastellearning.com
Online pastel learning is a service, for all those pastellists who can’t get to a workshop for whatever reason. Often, it’s the travel that stops us, as distance, time and money don’t line up for a set date workshop. Also try being in two places at once, our calendars get so full don’t they?
That’s why I started this service, to make pastel learning a stay at home option. There are a lot of people who have mobility issues whether it’s being in a wheel chair, having to stay home for family or distance reasons, or can’t travel. These Pastellists miss out on so much, so this is my way of helping out, reaching out to people in these situations. We are a global community now, its possible to join in where ever you have a good internet connection.
As tutors we try our hardest to get to rural and remote places and people. Again it’s the tyranny of distance and trying to be in two places at once that can stop us. I have been to remote and rural places teaching and love the connection, the coming together of kindred spirits for a weekend of not just pastel painting but social engagement. There is nothing to beat that. I’ll still be doing live workshops too.
So, this is my way of making that connection, albeit it’s online. It is providing a place for the pastellists doing the courses and projects to meet online and share what they are doing and more. It’s about connecting people with the same interest, offering a service for all to access any time it suits them 24/7 for a period of time.
The online courses are presented in the same way as I teach a workshop. I demonstrate and talk all the way through telling what I am doing and why. Yes, you can turn off the audio if that gets too much!!
My aim is to spark that creative flame of curiosity while giving you skills and confidence to explore this vibrant, versatile medium of pastel for your ongoing painting adventure.
Make time for you and for pastel painting. “making pastel happen” is there for you.
Give yourself permission to play with your creativity. Play is how we learn. It's fun too. Most of us are so intent on becoming good artists and doing everything right and inside the lines that we don't make time to let our inner child or creativity out to play.
The first time we conscientiously decide that we will play, we freeze. What do we do, how do we do this? We have to laugh, as it our own targeted actions trying too hard to be top of the class and colour between the lines, that we have forgotten this essential skill.
mmmmmm.... food for thought.
Make a space to play. Put out your play things, your most favourite art stuff. Take some time out, put ink, brush and pencil and pastel and charcoal out on the board and a piece of clean white paper, as if that wouldn't scare anyone anyway!! Leave it sit for a day or two. Look at it, think about it, walk past it......if you can!
Eventually the urge to pick up something and make a mark will be too strong, give into it. Play. Let it be what it is. Let it be un-directed, random, fun and outside the lines.
And fun isn't funny ha ha, it's playful it's wondering and wandering. This can be hard to do first up so don't struggle, "just do", as Yoda says.
Feel free to comment on your playtime experience with me. I'd like to hear about it.
Photo credit Ben Hershey
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In the Kitchen........lots of the best stuff happens in the kitchen!
That's where I learnt to pastel paint. Yep on the kitchen wall with the paper held up by blue tac, the little kids with eyes wide at their mum and Aunty Karol painting on the wall.
To cut along story short, I had been using pen and ink, drawing and loving it. I walked onto my cousin's house and Sue had this stunning portrait of our grandfather in the wall. It was done in pastel and she had painted it.
Needless to say I was amazed & blown away, Sue has got so much creative talent and this was something new. But here's the thing, she offered to show me how to use pastels.
So I was back the following weekend, watching Sue as she gave me the ins and outs of how pastel could be used, and how she used it. To this day I still sing her praises and blame her for my addiction to this vibrant medium.
One day in a kitchen far far away.........
Our painting stories all have a beginning, so whats yours?
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WIP... today's progress was to have the best time painting the sky area with only an hour to do as much as I could, slowly. It didn't matter if I didn't finish the sky, the aim was to become involved in the moment.
\nI so enjoy the way pastels layer, interact and create an intriguing look when not blended. It's still got a way to go yet untill I'm happy with the smoke bank.
\nSo who's a blender??!
\nArtSpectrum Extra Soft square pastels on ColourFix paper with AS artists ink underpainting. Size 45 X 35cm
Making Pastel Happen -
a blog about everything pastel and painting.
It's my aim to share techniques, tips, tricks, adventures, products, paintings, educate, inspire and foster the appreciation of painting.
I welcome your feedback and questions and don't promise to post regularly, but to let you know when I do post .
I'l give it my best shot to answer your questions and if I can't I'll let you know. Gee I may even be able to give you the name of someone who can answer.
Either way this blog is about making pastel happen and making painting enjoyable. I sincerely wish you to join me on this adventure. best wishes, Karol