Painting in the studio and painting outdoors. What is better? A silly question really, because they are both so different. Chalk and cheese. Although I could argue that it is not so daft. What about the artist (myself included) who has some expectation that the next painting may be good enough to actually sell. Bring in some cashflow for those paints and other tiresome things like bills to pay. If plein air painting is hit and miss compared to the controlled environment of a studio then staying indoors to churn out studio work will pay the rent. Or will it?
Remember exams at school? Some kids were great in class, but come exams they would fall apart. Could not handle the pressure and scrape tests that were easy to others. Then there were those who were useless on a daily basis, but then do rather well at test time. They turned out to be steady under pressure and did enough to get a respectable C. It is the kids who can handle pressure that make a success of life. The show ponies end up looking rather ordinary since life tends to be a pressure situation.
Now that all sounds a bit hard actually. But look at it this way. What if you can face the pressure situations, learn from them, and then apply the lessons learnt to do some excellent work when the pressure is off. That must surely be the way to live life too. Take it in your stride with some confidence and a smile. It is rather like how I view plein air painting.
The success ratio for plein air, if I think of saleable work, is about 50%. However take that experience into the studio and it results in more authentic paintings more often. Turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. If you can paint the ugly and make it look interesting - worthy of consideration. Then you have skill as a painter. Anyone can paint pretty. But pretty gets boring very quickly. Make the average beautiful. That is something.
I think of plein air as the training that gives me endurance to solve painting problems quickly. Make decisions and get on with finishing the painting. The above photo was from a recent early morning session at Kelly's Beach, Port Alfred. Sun in my eyes and amazing glare off the sea. Chances of a great painting - poor. Why bother?
The answer is that the challenge attracted me. I knew that success was unlikely, but I would have to learn to paint the sea's colours as I saw them. There was no contrived mixes of green and blue. What colour is the sea water in those conditions. Can you put a name to it? Not at all, but it is there so come up with a solution. Then there is the emotional content. How does that moment feel?
So in the end it is not a contest at all. Plein air is necessary to build the muscle for the long haul in the studio. Besides, it is great fun too!
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa