Thursday, February 02, 2006

Painting from Life

Most of what I do in terms of my artwork is usually related to painting from life and I thought I better say a few words about what this means rather than assuming that readers of this journal understand what I'm wittering on about.
  • "Working from life" means working with the subject in front of you whether it's a landscape, an interior, a still life or a person, No photographs are involved, there is no tracing or projection of the subject. The artist has to sight size the subject and make judgements about values and colours using their eyes and the experience and skills they have developed through working from life. Bottom line - it's essentially about trusting your eyes and drawing and painting what is in front of you.
  • "Plein Air Painting" is a term derived from french and is frequently used to describe painting from life in the open air and out of doors and away from the studio. It's also sometimes used as a euphemism for painting nature and the natural world. There's a good description of plein air painting and how it came about on the website of the Plein Air Painters of America. There is a further succinct glossary entry defining "plein air" on the Tate Gallery's website
  • "Life Drawing" is a term usually used to describe drawing (or sometimes painting) a person or people lying or sitting or standing or moving in front of the artist. Life drawing is often identified by artists who work from life as being the artistic equivalent of the scales which musicians practice on a regular basis. Skills in life drawing enhance and underpin a lot of the skills required to draw and paint from life. Life Drawing went out of favour amongst the art establishment and colleges at one point but seems to be experiencing a bit of a revival.
  • Working from life indoors - I don't recollect ever coming across a universally accepted term like "plein air painting" to describe artists who paint from life but do so indoors.
  • "Studio works" is a term frequently used to describe artwork which originally started life as a drawing or painting from life. The information in the original study is hugely valuable - but maybe it was not completed or the artist feels they can improve on it and hence continues to work on the subject back in the studio. Monet for example, when painting Venice, started an enormous number of canvases in Venice in front of the subject - but completed them at Giverny in the studio. However, it needs to be noted there is no guarantee that an artist who indicates that they work in a studio is actually working from life - they may be working from photographs
A lot of the drawings and paintings on my website were produced working from life. Others are developments based on the colour studies or drawings produced on site and in front of the subject and sometimes supported by photographs I took while painting - although these typically relate to painting plein air.
In the past, I have produced and completed large pastel paintings on site - working either "plein air" or indoors (and a signiifcant number of these these can be seen on my website) - however I now tend to focus much more on sketching and gathering material using coloured pencils so that I have a lot more information to work from when I get home.
I'm going to develop a set of links to sites concerned with plein air painting - something which I feel very passionate about. I've kicked off the section with a link to PAPA otherwise known as the Plein Air Painters of America.

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