Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MAM Poll June RESULTS: Preferred plein air painting media

Making A Mark Poll (June 2009) - Which is your preferred media for painting plein air?

At the beginning of this month I asked Which is your preferred media for painting plein air?. Artists and companies involved with the production of painting media, art education and art instruction might want to reflect on the results of this survey.

In total 116 people provided 161 responses which means each respondent uses an average of 1.42 types of media (compared to last month's survey about drawing media where 183 respondents provided 532 responses). That basically means three things:
  • many more people draw compared to those who paint plein air
  • people who draw experiment with far more media than those who paint plein air
  • people who paint plein air tend to lean towards to one type of media
One might infer - by implication - that those who draw may also spend more money on their media of choice than those who paint plein air.

The top three media for painting plein air

The most popular media for painting plein air is watercolour (29% of responses) followed by oils (24%) and soft pastels (16%).

The fact that watercolour came top won't be much of a surprise. However people might be surprised, as I was, by some of the results and in particularly the relative popularity of alternative media. There are some significant implications for art instruction and art classes/workshops.

Interpretation of results

What follows is my analysis of the results. You're invited to add your own comments about the results and/or any insights you may have about preferred media for painting plein air.

Watercolour versus other water based paints
  • When painting plein air, watercolour is the contemporary water-based media of choice - just as it has been for very many decades.
  • Other media which are water-soluble (eg Acrylics, Acrylic inks, Gouache, Water miscible oils, Casein) attracted only one sixth of the votes at best - and none at all at worst!
  • Only 1% use tempera plein air - I'd love to hear from this person as to their experiences!
  • Nobody uses casein - despite this being a very popular paint prior to the advent of acrylics. There is virtually no literature on how to use it.

Casein was widely used by commercial illustrators as the material of choice until the late 1960s when, with the advent of acrylic paint, casein became less popular.

Traditional oils - little impact by newer alternatives
  • There's a very low take-up rate for media which was designed to overcome the problems with the drying time of traditional oils.
    • Alkyds (fast drying oils) attracted 4% of responses while water miscible oils did even worse at 2%
    • I suspect this might be because there's not been enough information or education for artists who might be interested in using this type of media.
  • Another way of looking at this is that painters who love traditional oils have none of the ever-present studio problems with fumes from turpentine etc when painting plein air. The ventilation comes free!
  • I'm not in the least bit surprised to see that traditional oil paint (24%) is 400% more popular than acrylics (6%) for use plein air. The main problem with acrylics is the drying time and the tendency for this to vary with the environment. This is of course infinitely variable when painting with acrylics plein air. What works one one day won't work on other days when the temperature, humidity and breeze/wind factors are all quite different.
Soft pastels four times more popular than oil pastels
  • Soft pastels attracted (16%) four times more responses than oil pastels (4%). However I was somewhat surprised by how popular oil pastels were and wondered whether they are used - with solvent - by people who usually like working with oil paint.
  • The popularity of dry media (ie soft pastels) in this survey might be because this blog often features articles on various aspects of dry media - pastels and pencils
Alternative non-traditional media
  • The non-traditional media (eg acrylic inks, alkyds and water miscible oils) don't appear to have attracted much support despite the fact that they are actually well suited to painting plein air.
  • Neither acrylic inks nor alkyd paints (for art) get a page in wikipedia! (However wikipedia is particularly poor on art media)
Mixed media
  • The very low response rate for mixed media (2%) suggests to me that this is an aspect of painting plein air which gets very little air time in terms of instruction books, videos or tutors. Which I personally find really surprising.
The importance of tradition, education and instruction

I've drawn two conclusions from this survey:
  • the use of a particular media for painting plein air relates closely to how comfortable an artist feels using it. Artists stick to tried and trusted art media until they have a jolly good reason to change.
  • If plein air causes problems, they won't use it.
  • If they can't find media easily they won't use it.
  • If they don't know how it works and/or have never received any tuition in its use they won't use it.
  • alternative / modern painting media is not used very much due to a general lack of knowledge about the media's properties and how to use it.
  • Oils and watercolour and soft pastels are all traditional media which have been used for centuries by a lot of artists. There are also a lot of art tutors who can and will instruct those wishing to learn about how media properties and how to paint with oils and/or watercolours and/or soft pastels
  • What it suggests to me is that there are major opportunities for those who want to educate artists about the use of new and alternative media. They won't attract a popular following quickly - BUT they won't attract a following at all unless both media and instruction is easy to obtain!
That's my hypothesis - what do you think? Leave your comments below

A reminder about criteria

A quick reminder that the poll defined a painting executed plein air as something that is:
  • not a quick sketch
  • not a drawing
  • probably covers all or nearly all of the support being used
  • possibly a plein air study for a studio painting
  • possibly a painting which will go straight to a gallery!
This meant that the purely sketching media in May was not identified as an option. Note: In May we found out which media people like to use when drawing or sketching.

The poll allowed multiple responses based on media used on a regular basis rather than those you might use occasionally. Based on previous response rates to MAM Polls 161 responses from 113 artists indicates that only a proportion of readers responding to MAM surveys also paint plein air.

Tomorrow, I'll be posting the MAM Poll for July - which will be about preferred painting media in the studio. This will test out the differences in popularity of different media in different contexts.

The June scenario of painting plein air - with all the difficulties that can pose if using certain media - will now change to a scenario of painting in the studio - with all the control that offers.


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