Plein Air - untouched in studio

Oil on canvas panel, 9×12″ (Larger)

The painting above is not great, but it’s loose and free and painted plein air with no touching up in the studio.

I’ve been painting and repainting the formerly plein air painting below over the past few days and it’s been both a good learning experience and discouraging. Mostly what I’ve learned is NOT to (re)do it. When I try to “just fix one little thing” I end up working for hours (days in this case), completely losing the freshness of the original plein air painting and, at the end of the day, finding myself right back where I started from, with dull, overworked paint.

This is the final version and I hereby VOW to not touch it again (other than to throw it in the trash!) I thought I vowed that yesterday and yet today I found myself trying one more time:

Briones again...the end

At several points in the process I had a good painting but just kept on fixing one more little thing until…well…it’s like scratching mosquito bites…I just keep scratching at until it bleeds and then I’m sorry. The original before messing with it appeared on my easel in my post about my studio here (first photo).

This was yesterday’s version:

Plein  Air - finished in studio

Part of the problem with retouching in the studio is that the reference photos rarely capture the colors and memories of the scene. This one sure didn’t and yet I continued to work from it and wondered why everything looked so dull!
Briones photo ref

(above: the bad reference photo)

Photoshopped photo reference

(Above) I even tried painting over the reference photo in Photoshop to try to use that as reference instead but I still ended up with mud.

So here’s what I’ve learned (AGAIN!):

  1. Stop! Don’t waste time. Make progress by painting more paintings not the same one over and over
  2. Use more paint and less medium.
  3. Mix the right color, put it down and leave it alone.
  4. Messing with a hopeless painting forever is not art, it’s OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I need a painting alarm like those car alarms that say, “Step away from the painting…” or a Sister Mary Catherine to smack my knuckles with a ruler and snatch the canvas away from me…
Art theory, Landscape, Oil Painting, Outdoors/Landscape, Painting, Plein Air, Sketchbook Pages

Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. Jana,
    I’ve discovered the same thing – that reference photos don’t capture the nuances of color I need to help me finish a painting back in the studio if the light has changed drastically while painting.

    Two solutions I’m exploring
    paint smaller paintings that can be done more easily in one sitting plein air

    Take along my wc sketchbook and make color notes in that which will augment the info that the camera captures. That gives us the best of both worlds – the photo for composition and details and the sketchbook for exact color and light. I’m going to try that this year.

    Best of luck with all your goals in 2008


  2. If you figure out how to do that please call me collect with the answer. I won’t share it with anyone else. The rest of em can just go on creating bad canvas.


  3. Kwint’s idea sounds very good! And I agree–at some point leave it alone. Yesterday’s version looked good to me. Hey, but if you ever have pictures you actually ARE going to throw in the trash–don’t! Especially watercolor. Send them to me with the notes about why you think they should be in the trash, and I’ll use them in art lessons with my 5th graders. 🙂


  4. I almost always rework at least a little. The plein aire is for study. You will find it more enjoyable and fruitful to think of it as study. Don’t go with the goal of a finished beauty each time you leave the house. You will just get frustrated and want to quit. Enjoy the moments, STUDY, the sky, tree, bush, rock, etc.

    I think you will learn more doing many small quick studies than by standing for 3 hours trying to get a completed work.

    In the studio you can reevaluate the studies and see what it takes to make them completed pieces if you like what you have started in the field.

    Now, clean the house, do the ironing, cook supper, then go enjoy that 20 minutes left over for studying nature.

    The BOSS (Lisa spells it – The JERK).


  5. happy new year jana. I love your comments and notes about what you learned…especially #4. funny and clever!


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