After ten days of battling the elements in the Florida heat, a veteran studio painter was asked 'so how do you like painting outdoors?' The response was, 'I realize now that I prefer painting in Plein-Air Conditioning!' Mary Erickson
One of the techniques taught in art classes is "en plein-air," --painting out of doors. I have read books, magazines and listened to professors on the subject and the consensus is that plein air is the very best way to paint landscapes, the studio being a poor second. Working from photographs is frowned on. Plein-air painters are considered the elite of landscape artists. I read an ariticle about an artist who specialized in snow scenes; she painted en plein-air. She sat cross-legged in the back of her station wagon painting while looking out the car window. If it was too cold, she'd take photos to use as a reference to paint in the studio. Huh? Why not do that to start with?
Plein-air was a tool developed by the French Impressionists in the 1870s and 80s to create fresh bright paintings, different then anything seen before. However the French Academy of Art, with their rigid standards in painting, rejected the Impressionists' work because it didn't fit into the traditional norm of art of that time. The outlaw painters broke all the rules and only much later were they were applauded for standing up to the establishment and creating a new form of art. However the modern establishment teaches the Impressionists techniques as rules in creating art and rules were what the original en plein-air painters stood against.
While some people enjoy painting outside--I wish them great joy in it, I have problems with it. One-- I am too slow. I can't rush the painting and the light changes and my leg cramps...it is not fun. Two-- The landscape out doors has too much information for me to process. If I look at a tree, I have a hard time deciding what shapes to include or which to leave out to suggest the tree. Three-- After being led to feel guilty for working from photos, there is nothing wrong with using reference photographs. Certainly I don't want to COPY the picture. A good artist can take elements from several photos and put them together in a composition.