Perfection vs. Plein-Air Painting

By: Amy Beck, marketing and communications manager on June 26th, 2013

“I used to think the art I made had to be perfect,” said preteen Hayley on Monday, the first day of plein-air painting workshops in the Woodson Art Museum’s sculpture garden. “I try not to think that now,” she said, dabbing a brush into oil paint on her palette.

“It’s all about expressing yourself; look at those beautiful colors you’ve painted into that garden bench!” said Janeice Linden, the Colorado artist leading the workshops this week after participating with a dozen other artists in “Paint the Town: A Plein-Air Paint Out” on opening weekend of Celebrating Summer: Plein-Air Painters of America, on view through August 25.

This week, Janeice is working two days each with middle school students, high school students, and then adults, teaching principles of painting en plein air, a French phrase meaning “in the open air.”

The youngest participants began by focusing on form, sketching an object of their choice in the sculpture garden, moved on to a value study and color mixing, and then fanned out to paint what they saw in the garden. Tuesday, Janeice focused on plein-air painting techniques, as she demonstrated and guided students; they chose to mix colors such as ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and burnt umber to depict “The Heavyweight” hippo, Burt Brent’s much-loved sculpture.

These youngsters learned that plein-air painters, taking their cues from the Impressionists, must work swiftly – weather and sunlight are fickle – using color to convey light on form. The advent in the mid-1800s of portable easels and paint in tubes made it possible for artists to leave the studio to paint on location.

Using the sculpture garden as the location for this week’s workshops, the Museum is providing students the opportunity to work with oil paints, often for the first time. Using oil paints isn’t an option in many school classrooms because proper ventilation is required for safety’s sake, said Museum educator Jayna Hintz, who coordinated the workshops. Through its array of programs organized year-round for all ages and guided tours and hands-on art making during class visits here, the Museum strives to offer barrier-free art education that extends and expands upon what’s possible in school classrooms.

As one young student painted on Monday, Janeice, the workshop instructor, reinforced a lesson Hayley had begun learning several years ago while creating a papier-mâché puppet at school: perfection isn’t the goal, especially with plein-air painting. Expressing an impression is, along with the ambiance of a place and moment in time.

Here’s hoping each workshop participant will look at the artworks they create with pride, savor their time at the Museum, and return often throughout many seasons to come.

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