Plein Air

I spent last Sunday in Chestnut Hill, a Philadelphia neighborhood near my house, participating in a plein air event. Now, the timing of this event was not the greatest for me, being as it was a few days before my second cataract surgery. My eyesight was quite confused – when you see 20/20 in one eye and 20/800 in the other, and your close-up vision is also a bit shaky, well, maybe painting is not what you ought to be doing.

But, I went ahead anyway. I want to try this type of event whenever I can. I haven’t been able to do much plein air as I had wanted to so far this summer, once again due to my sight.

Forty artists or so were participating. We were assigned a block along the main street in this section of town, Germantown Avenue. I was in the 8300 block on the east side. I chose a view looking south – an intersection a little bit down the hill. I set up my table and got to work. Once I had the painting pretty well set up, I moved into the shade (it was a very hot day and as the sun moved, I did too).

I enjoyed the experience. I think I’m gradually getting an idea of how plein air and I can work together. I did feel restricted by adhering to the elements of the scene and not adding or amending as I would if I were just painting along free to go anyway I wanted. What this told me is that for me, plein air makes a great starting point, and then I want to embellish. Good. I learned something valuable.

So here are some stages of my painting. I plan to do some changes to it back here at home as soon as my eyes heal a bit more (I had the second surgery yesterday and so far, things have gone well with both eyes). I want to simplify some sections and make some additions to turn it into a landscape that’s partly real and partly straight from my own head. I’ll have to see where it goes.

And here are some photos from the reception – they displayed all the paintings done that day.

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23 thoughts on “Plein Air

  1. Claudia McGill Post author

    Yes, I usually choose something random to paint in – the white background bothers me and I’d rather start off with colors, even if they don’t always end up being part of the picture. Also, I like to have a lot of layers of color and this gets the ball rolling.

  2. Claudia McGill Post author

    It works well to get the painting going rather than just staring at the blank space and saying – what am I going to do? How will I get this picture to go?

  3. Julia Wigent

    Good point. I’ve been doing collage post cards (and, hey, just got my MA in Humanities!) and will be getting back to painting. I hope to experiment, using the experience of collages to loosen up my style. I like this technique. I’ve seen someone use gray paper using pastels but in painting setting up the background makes lots of sense for getting one to move quickly.

  4. P. King

    I love the photos of the stages of how you got to the finished piece. A really wonderful painting!

  5. agnesashe

    Hope your cataract surgery has worked well. Do you think having a sudden radical adjustment to your vision will change your work? I was thinking of people like Turner and Monet gradually losing their sight and how that influenced their output. Having cataracts removed is like the process in reverse, but virtually overnight.
    By the way there’s nothing quite like working plein air, is there? However, when I tried it in a small English market town it was hard to get any painting done as so many people want to stop and chat about what I was doing? Was that the same in Chestnut Hill? Love the energy and flow in your finished piece.

  6. Sheila Evans

    Chestnut Hill has been made even more lovely, how did that happen? You’re good.
    This is quite exciting.

  7. Claudia McGill Post author

    Thank you. Seeing the photos lined up like this really gives me an interesting view on my work – I don’t think about how many times I paint over the piece or all the changes I make when I am doing it.

  8. Claudia McGill Post author

    I wonder too how my different eyesight will work. I guess probably not too much once I get the new glasses in about a month, but I do have a very different view of the world without glasses now – I am farsighted rather than very nearsighted now, though there is a middle ground that I couldn’t see before and I still can’t – for different reasons! Glasses will unify things later on and until then I have several pairs of reading glasses to fill in. I do notice colors are whiter – the cataracts gave a yellowish tinge to things, although mine weren’t that bad – I probably would not have had anything done for some time if it were not for the retina surgery and accelerated development since last fall. I am truly grateful to have my 2 eyes working together again, though, I just can’t say that enough.

    Plein air is very social, you are right. I also had many people stopping to look and talk, although that was part of the point of the event, I guess – the public seeing the artist at work. I prefer being alone when I work, I have discovered, but I did like being outside and taking inspiration from what is right around me.

  9. agnesashe

    Gosh I hadn’t realised you’d had retinal surgery too – I do hope the new glasses arrangement concludes this surgical episode. That’s an interesting remark you make about whiter colours – a family friend who had both eyes done quite quickly thought the world entirely more brightly coloured, but I think her cataracts had been quite severe. Living now we are so lucky with all the medical advancements.
    My mother loved painting and attended classes for years, but never like working in company and did all her best stuff on her own and yet when she wasn’t painting she was one of the most social people I’ve known. I think being creative is an intense, focussed business and it’s difficult to combine that with having a nice little chat and coffee!

  10. Alice

    Oh goodness! Last Sunday? If I’d stayed on my bus another 20 minutes, I coulda stopped by and admired your work in person. 🙂

    Another time perhaps!

  11. Claudia McGill Post author

    Yes, me too. The cataract actually came about, or rather, stepped up its progression, because of the retina surgery, and then the other eye had to be done too, because otherwise my eyes would be too mismatched to get glasses to correct. So. I’m hoping to recover well, so far so good

    I don’t really like taking classes anymore because there is always a lot of talking even when we are working on something, and it bothers me. Though I’m friendly enough usually, I think, but in my artwork, well, I just want to be alone with it!

  12. Pingback: More Remodelings | Claudia McGill and Her Art World

  13. Pingback: Plein Air Painting – Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA, June 5 – Claudia McGill, Artist

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