Working En Plein Air: How to Expand Your Art By Going Outside
By Amy Hand
Hey there Smart Art friends!
Welcome to April’s blog post. I hope you were as excited as I was when you saw that this month’s medium was watercolor brush pens! I must admit this is one of my favorite mediums; brush pens are one of my love languages. So I was even more motivated than usual to share this blog with you.
The first thing that came to mind when thinking about watercolors in any form is en plein air (which is also mentioned in the brochure if you give it a good read), so that is what we are going to explore today. This is a wonderful painting style that, I’m sure, will get you really motivated to go out and use the great supplies in this month’s box.
If you have no clue what I’m talking about, don’t worry, we’re going to be learning about this together, and by the end, you’ll be in the know about everything en plein air! So come along with me, and let’s learn a cool new way to use your brand-new watercolor brush pens.
What is En Plein Air and How Did it Become Known
So, first things first, what exactly does ‘en plein air’ mean?
En plein air comes from the French and means, literally, outdoors. But it refers specifically to the act of painting outdoors. For how this term came about and how it gained popularity, let’s take a look at some history.
The artistic term is said to have been coined by painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes in his treatise Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting published in 1800. In this treatise, de Valenciennes spoke about the merits of executing landscape portraiture by placing the artist within the setting itself. He also noted that this was the most authentic way to capture weather and the effects on the light quality it brings. This practice was seen as almost rebellious at the time as it went against academic rules and the tradition of studio painting that people had become so accustomed to.
This practice may have been introduced in 1800, but it is arguably the Impressionists that really brought it to the forefront of art. This period came to prominence in the 1870s and caused quite an upset as the loose style and venturing outdoors went totally against many academic principles. Artists would work in charcoal, watercolors, and even oils while sitting on the banks of a river, in local parks, or set up in the countryside. Artists like Monet even made studies of various objects outdoors, like his famous series of Hay Bales. In this series, he visited the same spot in the same field at various times of day to capture the variations in light and its effect on this humble object. I can’t wax too lyrical about these artists here, you’d be here all day, but if you look up these pieces, you will notice how well they depict light quality and texture by really immersing themselves in the setting. Besides Monet, I recommend checking out artists like Renoir, Sisley, and Morisot. Although these artists' work was mainly executed in oils, the principle of capturing landscapes but placing yourself in it works with any medium, including, of course, our watercolor brush markers.
Now It’s Your Turn
Now that you’ve learned all about painting en plein air, its time to get out there yourself! Luckily this month's box is pretty much a one-stop shop for everything you’ll need. Basically, all you need is to get yourself a bag that will fit your supplies and load it up with your watercolor markers, erasers, pencils, water brush pens, marker pen, and Fabriano watercolor paper that came in the box. Everything is compact enough to easily pop into a bag or backpack for you to whip out the minute inspiration hits. Even the water brush is super portable as the lid and brush keep it nice and tightly sealed. Just load it up before you go and you’re all set. I recommend bringing a water bottle in case you need to refill on the go (and, of course, to stay hydrated). Conversely, you could fill up all three brushes for a quick change-over.
Back in the day, en plein air painters would go out there with a huge cumbersome box of art supplies, squeezing paint from tubes onto palettes. All this hassle is no longer necessary with the invention of art supplies like watercolor brush pens. The paint is mixed, locked, and loaded for you to start painting right away. It makes en plein air painting so much more convenient and relaxing.
One extra item you might want to bring is a palette to mix and dilute your watercolor markers. However, the beauty of these watercolor brush markers in comparison to traditional watercolors is that the palette isn’t essential. Since the paint is premixed, you can swap from marker to marker without the hassle of mixing or dipping in water which makes the whole process a lot more streamlined. Try mixing your colors wet in wet on the page for your en plein air work and see what that brings out in your art. You can also wet the page with your water brush before starting to aid your blending.
But where should you go, you might ask?
For any number of reasons, going outdoors and exploring might not be accessible for you. But don’t worry, you can make it work for you. Even venturing out onto your balcony or painting by an open window could qualify as en plein air if that’s what you have access to. Everyone is welcome here.
If you do have the means, however, you can use painting as the motivation to visit a beautiful place near you and get to know where you live on a whole new level. If full-on countryside ala Monet’s Hay Bales isn’t in your backyard, a park, forest, or even a botanical garden would make a stunning setting to paint en plein air. Water sources like the seaside, rivers and lakes are also excellent places to paint outdoors since they attract so much wildlife (and people too), and it will help you figure out how to capture water just right.
If you are into camping and hiking, this kit is the perfect selection to bring along since it takes up so little space. What could be more idyllic than setting up a tent and painting the incredible surroundings you find yourself in with some watercolor brush pens?
You could even be inspired by artists of the past and decide to revisit the same spot several times to capture it in a different light or at different times of the year.
And now you’re pretty much all set to go out and explore your surroundings with your paint at your side, soaking up that vitamin D and getting your creative juices flowing. If you need a little help with blending and working with different colors together I recommend checking out our blog post about the color wheel which will give you a quick and easy color theory breakdown.
I hope you enjoy escaping outdoors with your paint, don’t forget your SPF! See you next month.
Be sure to join us for next month's Smart Art Box!