Saturday, June 20, 2015


People tell me we shouldn't fiddle with our plein air paintings after we've left the field.  I've watched this topic be endlessly argued on Facebook and blogs.  Some say it's no longer a plein air piece if you do anything to it later.  First of all, let me say, I've been in many plein air competitions and I can tell you, as a matter of fact, the overwhelming majority of pieces done in the heat of the field are turned in after they have been tuned-up in the cool of the motel room.

The practice doesn't bother me a bit, as long as we're not talking about a cold re-do from photo-reference.  And those who resort to such tactics are kidding themselves about the importance of winning the fleeting recognition of some event.  Even if you win, you lose because you know you've stooped to violate your own conscience, and this makes you a smaller person.

If you've read here before, you know I'm not a plein air "purist", who thinks that plein air is an ideal inviolable.  Some seem actually to believe that a flawed work done alla prima, in the field, has some mystical quality that makes it superior to a painting finished in the studio.  To me, plein air painting is a tremendous means of learning by painting directly from life, not showing-off.  I really don't see the value in leaving a painting less than it could be when you strongly feel it can be made better.  I enjoy going back through my field studies to see what jumps out at me that could be improved.

I've included a sample of such a "tune-up here, so you can see what I'm talking about.  The top painting includes the "tune-ups" done weeks after the painting done in the field (shown below).  See if you can discover what I've done.  You may feel its worse, now, but I've done what I feel needed to be done to make the best painting I could from the information I gathered en plein air.

©Jimmy Longacre 2015
9X12 oil on canvas panel

Jimmy Longacre
subjective realist landscape paintings

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  1. Jimmy, I totally agree with you regarding your comments about plain air painting. I think it all depends on the situation. If it is a plain air competition, then that venue should have their own rules regarding how much technology and or time "to touch up" in the motel is allowed. I now see "plain Air" artists transporting their iPads into the field to photograph and mount to their easel to frame their subject. Is this cheating? Just a rhetorical question.... I have personally marred paintings in transport from my initial setup to wherever I was staying or going. I have dropped them, they have fallen into my easel, etc. But for me, the real point of painting plain air is to overall improve my work, so if it becomes a combination of plain air and studio, I could care less. I strive for the best painting I can create... no self imposed rules when painting for myself. Enjoyed your article

    1. That's what I'm talking about, David. Competition creates its own strange world of what's permissible in making paintings, and if you enter you need to comply. But I find no useful boundaries or benefits to narrowing the plein air experience for a painter who just wants to grow. I like how you put it: …for me, the real point of painting plain air is to overall improve my work, so if it becomes a combination of plain air and studio, I could care less. I strive for the best painting I can create.

  2. Egads.... My auto spell check changed plein to plain.

  3. Always enjoy your newsletter. Tune up dead on.

    1. Happy to know you're out there, icreatefun.