Plein Aire?

Edge of the Lake

      Edge of the Lake                 watercolor                                  14″ x 22″

If you read a  lot of current art magazines no doubt you will run across the term “Plein Aire”.  Basically, it means to paint outdoors. Seems the trend these days.  In fact some say  that it is one of the fastest growing movements in painting.   The question comes what really constitutes plein aire painting?  Does it mean that every stroke is completed on site or is there room for making adjustments in the studio? Well the answer is it all depends upon whom you ask. Personally, I got into the habit of painting outdoors in art school many decades ago. It was the belief that painting outdoors was the best way to capture a moment.  In some ways that is true.  However, painting outside has its own challenges . While I recommend it highly I must confess that it poses often unpredictable situations.  The obstacles can run the gamut from uninvited critics, fickle breezes, sudden gusts of high wind, insects and aggressive animals of all sorts and so on.  Then one must consider the fact that the sun does not stand still.  In fact, the light and color can change about every 2 seconds. For a beginner the list may sound formidable. However all of these things can be over come. Some require tact while others require proper preparation.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is what to leave in and what to leave out. In short, proper editing. Wait that sounds like writing. Well. yes it does. However, visual editing for the painter is of the utmost importance.

The photo below was taken in my backyard, outside my fence. Two new houses have been built so my favorite  spot is no longer available. Perhaps at some point I can introduce myself to my new neighbors and get back to the original vantage.  At any rate perhaps you can pick out the essence of this photo that was the inspiration for “Edge of the Lake.”

This is a beautiful place with all sorts of movement of shapes and color.  I will return to it from time to time  to explore all of its possibilities. You may not have a lake in your backyard but no doubt you have unlimited possibilities that you can explore. The mood changes with the light and the seasons.  Overcast skies, bright blue sunny skies; all make for tremendous opportunities . Our first year here it snowed several inches.  My wife used to get a kick out of me whenever it snowed.  That beautiful white blanket turns everything into a magical  wonderland  and I just had to do my best to capture it.   She would say that I was worse than a kid when it started snowing. There is just something special about it. For my Pennsylvania and New England friends they don’t always share my enthusiasm but then snow for us is a rare treat.

Lake Cyrus

Photo: Lake Cyrus  taken with my iphone.

I do make use of a camera but I refuse to become a slave to it. Long ago I trained my self to remember shapes, light and color. Sadly at times photos destroy my inner vision. That is why I am very careful with them.  Pick out the strong features and discard the rest of the visual clutter. One of the best teachers is FAILURE.  When you hit a wall; analyze the problem and then work around it. At times you will find numerous sketches on my studio floor.  Often the failures are glaring.  I just pick up another sheet of paper and start drawing again.  Small thumbnail sketches are great for developing the shapes of the design but larger sketches produce refinement of image.  Not every painting gets the same attention. Some are very spontaneous while others require more planning. Let the spirit guide you.

Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques ?

Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin is available at


About masteringglazingtechniquesinwatercolor

Watercolor painter and author of several watercolor books on painting technique. Recent inductee/recipient of the Marquis Life Time Achievers Award.

Posted on March 2, 2019, in Don Rankin watercolors, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Always enjoy your beautiful work and your inspiration! So sorry to hear about your wife’s recent death. Sending you prayers and healing thought.

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