Spring into Springtime Art
Almost any artist will tell you that there’s a certain appeal to working outdoors that can’t be found anywhere else. With spring in full swing, many of us will leave our studios for our porches, backyards and beyond and spring into springtime art, such as landscapes
Springtime in Giverny by Claude Monet
To celebrate the season and all the seasonal landscape art being made, here are 10 ways you can make the most of your next outdoor painting session.
Start with a good, long look
Painting landscapes lets you create work that can take the viewer on a journey into a new environment. To create a truly expressive work of art, it helps to take more than a cursory look around and quickly set up shop.
Walk around, sit a spell and really soak in the landscape around you.
Golden Crown by John Budicin, oil painting, 8 x 10.
Focus your eye
Whether it’s a rocky cliff or a busy urban street, outdoor settings can offer a myriad of potential subjects. Sometimes, however, it can be too much to take in, leading to a painting that feels busy, cluttered and lacking a center of interest.
Massachusetts-based artist Nancy Colella starts every composition based on what she’s visually drawn to. She makes those elements the focal point of her painting and tones down everything else so that they come to the fore.
It’s all about the light
Light changes throughout the day, which makes accurately capturing it one of the biggest challenges of painting outdoors. The flip side, of course, is that when one is able to do this correctly, a painting is instantly elevated. Observe the quality of light, aiming for a spontaneous interpretation that still takes observation skills into consideration.
The Summer House by Thomas Pollock Anshutz, watercolor painting, 1900.
Don’t paint a blue sky
Blue skies rarely exist! California watercolorist Dick Cole acknowledged that landscape painting enhanced his skills as a colorist and helped him to realize that the sky, along with many elements in nature, is made up of a variety of colors and not just one pure hue.
Strike a balance
Spend as much time observing as you do painting. For artist Glenn Rudderow, this is a crucial part of his plein air practice.
“Nothing can take the place of direct observation — of being there, seeing, communicating and expressing the spirit of one’s subject,” he says.
Go for awesome
Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran of the Hudson River School produced paintings of the American landscape that were technically masterful, but most of all they were awe-inspiring. They created luminous paintings that seemed too bright to be true. They amplified the elements of the landscape that inspired them most, leaving the viewer with the same sentiments.
Don’t bring your studio outdoors
The thrill of working en plein air is that you can shake up your routine and work differently than you might usually. Use the change in location to try new techniques, such as working on a smaller scale or focusing predominantly on light and other atmospheric qualities. And there is always the real compromise of doing an outdoor session very close to home, as in your own yard.
Evening Descends by Kim Casebeer, oil painting.
Colors contribute to a sense of space
When creating her landscape paintings, Kansas artist Kim Casebeer adjusts her palette in order to accurately render atmospheric changes and a sense of space. For example, there is usually more red, orange and yellow running through objects in the foreground, and blue, indigo and violet for shapes that recede in the distance.
Go with the flow — of air
Air moves objects. It ripples water, curls leaves and sways limbs of trees. Use brushstrokes and shading to create movement in your work.
Perfection isn’t everything
You can spend all day looking for a “perfect” composition that just doesn’t exist. Embrace the reality around you — smog, power lines, even debris — and open yourself up to telling interesting stories with new subjects.
How have you been taking advantage of spring in your work? Leave a comment and let us know.
If you want to learn more about painting landscapes — including how to paint mountainous vistas accurately, avoid compositions that lack cohesion, and more — take advantage of starting with Plein Air Made Easy with Christine Ivers (preview trailer above).