John DuVall

Hello, Everyone! Finally, the weather has turned to spring! With daffodils dotting yards, trees beginning to bud and bumblebees buzzing, it is also the time visual artists head outside to sketch, draw and paint.

The term is plein-air (French for “outdoors”). It started in the mid 1800’s, when tubes of paint became available for purchase instead of having to mix your own, and a reinvention of smaller portable easels became available. The effects this had on the art world is still felt to this day.

The idea was simple — by setting up an easel and drawing what was around you, it enabled artists to capture what they saw, instead of a predetermined view from a studio. This changed artists’ perceptions of how light changed, how wind affected fields of green, and how weather influenced mood and tone.

By the mid 1860’s the Impressionists were obsessed with carrying their supplies around the French countryside and cities, capturing the same view from different times of the day. There is a long list of artists that flourished by using this practice including Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Pisarro. To view Claude Monet’s “Bank of the Seine at Jeufosse, Autumn,” painted in 1884, visit bit.ly/3sFUeFX.

An American collection of artists called the Hudson River School also painted and drew outside, primarily along the bends and curves of the Hudson River in New York. One of the finest examples of the collective is Thomas Cole’s “The Oxbow,” painted in 1836, which can be seen at bit.ly/2PLqQiZ. Notice the oncoming storm, which was captured as it moved into the valley.

So, why am I giving you an art history lesson? Not only is it important to know where and why different movements and periods of art took place, I encourage you to try it for yourself. The challenge, as I have stated in previous articles, is getting started. This one is easy! You only need a piece of paper and pencil. Of course, you can spend more money on a beautiful sketchbook and charcoals, if you want.

Go outside to your garden, porch or your fire escape, and draw what you see, not what you want to see. It’s trickier than you think — we have programmed ourselves to idealize our surroundings. Notice how light and time of day affect the shadows, pay attention to what appears to be closest to you, and is therefore larger (perspective). Start with a rough sketch, then go back and start to fill in the details, or leave it vague, focusing on the light and shadows.

Hey, you have just become an impressionist! Want to deepen the exercise? Go back later in the day and draw the same view. How do the light values change? What becomes the focus, now that the shadows have changed? Both Monet and Cezanne often painted the same view varying time of day and year. Two images of Paul Cezanne’s painting of Mont St. Victoire, painted 1900-1902, show he painted this same mountain many times, changing the mood and focus depending on the time of day or year. To see the two images of Paul Cezanne’s painting of Mont St. Victoire, painted 1900-1902, visit bit.ly/3dtzafp and bit.ly/2OiLZAM.

If you are looking for something new, this is it. Grab a pencil and paper and head outside. Be brave. Be bold. Draw what you see. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, it only matters that you are trying and experimenting.

Happy spring, and have an artful day!

John DuVall is the Managing Artistic Director for Lakeland Cultural Arts Center in Littleton.

John DuVall is the Managing Artistic Director for Lakeland Cultural Arts Center in Littleton.