Mike Samson on “Plein Air Painting”
When Michelle asked me to write an article about “Plein Air” painting she raised various questions. The first was – “Why painting outside is important to you?”
What a great question I thought! Why is it important to me? It’s sort of become a way of life now and I don’t think about why I do it, I just do it. So this got me thinking as well.
Where Plein Air Painting Started for Me
My first recollection of out door painting was in 1980 in Ulster. I was at that time in the Army and given a job to escort and guide a Military Artist working for the Imperial War Museum. The artist was Ken Howard (Now Professor Ken Howard RA). I watched in amazement as he sketched the Irish Landscape in watercolours with such ease and great skill. Without doubt he sowed the seed in me and I made my first feeble attempts at out door painting in the beautiful Irish Landscape. They weren’t very good, but I was addicted!
Many years later I joined a local art club and rediscovered the passion. We regularly went out and painted the local landscape, for the most part using watercolours. A member of the club introduced me to the work of ‘Edward Seago’, possibly Britains greatest out door painter of the 20th Century. I was of course aware of the impressionists and was already quite influenced by Sisley and Pissarro. The great works of Turner and Constable also played their part in my style at that time. All four of these great artists must be inspiring to anyone wishing to paint on site.
Selling My Artwork
In the late 1990’s I found my little “Plein Air” watercolours were become increasingly popular at local exhibitions. A buyer once commented “Your paintings are an honest representation of life today.” I’ve never forgotten that and it’s what I always strive to achieve. During this period I was also a fan and admirer of the English Landscape painter Matthew Alexander.
To my surprise he turned up at one of my exhibitions with his wife Trish and they purchased one of my watercolour paintings. We soon became friends and we started painting together on Sunday mornings. Matthew re-introduced me to Oil Painting, something I hadn’t done since the late 1970’s. I now think oil has so much expressive potential when painting outdoors.
Views I Enjoy Painting
Fortunately I live in a part of Kent where we are nearly surrounded by the sea and have magnificent countryside just a few miles away. The landscape is low and the skies are big!!! So I am never seeking inspiration or subject matter, my problem is finding the time to paint it all!
From October to May I tend to go inland and paint country landscapes, especially when there is snow on the ground. I’ve even painted in temperatures well below zero, providing there is enough light, the cold doesn’t bother me too much. Although I should add I am well equipped in respect of suitable clothing, a flask of coffee and lots of chocolate!
My studio is just twenty metres from Ramsgate harbour. During the summer months I grab my gear and within minutes I can be painting seascapes.
I don’t paint in the rain. Being cold is one thing, being cold and wet something else!
Painting Something Different
When choosing a subject to paint, I try not to go for the ‘obvious view’, but to look for interesting compositions, or light effects, usually by doing a quick pencil sketch first to see if it works before committing paint to canvas. I find this a useful method of checking the tonal values in the chosen view. It also means I have a sketch to work off should I decide to work up the smaller painting into a larger studio piece later. I very rarely work from photographs. The planning stage is very important, as I have found out the hard way over the years. The urge to put paint down fast on site is so often to the detriment of the finished painting! I have basic rules “plan and prepare and to think slowly and paint fast using a limited palette”.
Like many before me, “Plein Air” painting has become a way of life. When I’m not painting. I’m always thinking about it and seeing new views to paint.
So back to the question –“Why is it important to me?” The only answer I have is – “I enjoy painting my back yard and it’s as honest as I can be on a canvas with a few brushes and colours.”
By Mike Samson
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