arts and culturefeatured-art-and-cultureIssue 23

Painting in the Open Air

By Noel Daniel

It’s a style that’s just perfect for summer, capitalizing on the bright and living colors of nature. Plein air painting, or “en plein air,” just means a painting process that’s done out in the open air.

“If you want to paint out of doors, you should ‘love to be outside in the wind, with the bugs, etc and still be able to concentrate on what you are doing,’” said Chella, a professional plein air painter, fresh from the April 5th Annual National Plein Air Conference. “Simplify the scene into basic shapes; less is better. Be able to set up fast so you don’t miss the desired light.”

Chella says her start with plein air painting was a natural one. She’d been an oil painter in the past. Even while teaching art at the high school level, Chella found she wanted to record the rural scenes around her that she noticed being replaced by commercial development.

“So first I painted the farmhouse, palms, silos, animals and fields near my home in north Modesto,” she said, explaining that plein air was not popular at that time. “In the 1990s, the former Vault Gallery, Sonora, was one of the first galleries to sponsor a Paint Out Event which was called ‘Gold Country Plein Air.’”

Then she bought her first pochade box—a closed box with a palette for colors, storage for paint tubes and brushes, and space to mount the painting panel—from Chuck Waldman, a physician-turned-plein air artist. And the rest is history.

Of all the agriculture she painted, however, she had a specific fascination for water towers.

“Being from a mid-eastern rural state raised on a 100-acre farm, I was unfamiliar with the individual tank houses, with a water storage unit at the top,” Chella said. “What were they? I found them fascinating.”

But by far, her favorite rural scene is a California two-story wooden structured home with palm trees, a tank house, a barn and a newly-mowed hay field. Chella also holds a fondness for older methods of farming, small bales of hay, pickers in vegetable and fruit yards, and old tractors in orchards. In fact, the entire process of plein air painting is a pleasure.

“I love the spontaneous strokes I do, the fresh, clean and full color pigments on the panel and dramatic responses I have when I see a scene with strong dark and light values,” says Chella. “I want to paint something that touches my soul, something that recalls my past, something that ‘speaks’ to me. And I want a spot of bright color somewhere in the composition. At least that is what I strive to do. Not all artworks are successful and ‘keepers.’”

As for the work involved in plein air painting, it—like all art—is as difficult as it is gratifying.

“It’s fun but exhausting, tiring and rewarding, all the same time,” said Chella. “Concentrating on composition, values, colors, textures, form and shapes all at once is difficult. The light on the subject and its shadows are changing ever so quickly, so you should create a value study first; then the dark and light colors are added according to that plan. It’s tricky and fun. And of course when you have a moving subject, like animals and people, your first sketch helps.”

Chella finishes with helpful advice to those looking to start plein air painting.

“Rarely does a plein air painter complete a painting on location,” Chella said. “Just a few minutes back in the studio finishes the painting. But what is important is to feel that you are capturing the impression you first saw.It’s important to bring your own impression into the canvas or panel. Be original and true to yourself.”

To See More Of Chella’s Work, visit her website at www.

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