Why Paint From Nature?

WIP (detail) - wild iris in mountain forest

11 January 2023

When the weather constrains my plein air painting, I head indoors. By early spring, I'm longing to be back out in nature.

It’s still winter here in the Pacific Northwest. When the weather constrains my plein air painting, I head indoors. I prefer the cozy confines of my more-or-less warm and dry studio. (I admit it, I'm a fair-weather plein air painter.)

I use this time to catch up with yet-to-be completed smaller paintings that I started plein air. I can use those and my photos to springboard my larger, more conceptual studio paintings. Or experiment with new ideas.

But by February I'm already longing for the change in season, and to get outdoors again. There is so much that happens, being in the nature that you're painting. That immediate focus changes and inspires what shows up in your paint.

Why Is It So Different?

Painting or sketching outdoors is a different focus. It feeds us different information, and different stimulus.

Conditions and even tiny changes in our environment are more present. Sensory input can be more intense. Every change informs what we "see", as painters. Outdoors I'm energized by my connection to the land. I'm more sensitive and alert to conditions because they're more present. I'm thrilled by the feel and smells and tastes in the air.

Light changes its angles in a constant, moving arc throughout the day. This creates an evolving puzzle of negative/positive values to translate into paint. The relative moisture in the air changes the clarity of what's near/far. Wind or even a tiny breeze moves things, changing shadow and light, thus changing their shapes. Temperature changes throughout the day, and affects plants, animals and humans. 

In short, life happens!  Your subject becomes a moving target.

It's inspiring and thrilling to paint or sketch from life. Whether it's painting outdoors, painting from live flowers or food, or from a live figure - we're nearer to life. The natural result is that the life force of our subject informs how our whole being responds to our medium. And isn't that exciting?

Join A Discussion

Add your thoughts on my facebook group Art and The Studio.  How does your immediate environment change your work?  If your work is abstract, how do you connect with life force? What are the tools you use to connect with the life force of your work?

Julia O'Reilly