When is a Plein Air Painting not a Plein Air Painting?

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It was very early one Saturday morning when I went to Old Town Pasadena to paint en plein air. The scene was one of those ideal settings when the shadows cast by the sun were as important to the painting as the architecture, people and objects from which and upon which they were cast.

Not many people were on Colorado Blvd., mostly delivery people and workers plus a handful of Pasadenians out for an early morning walk. Two young men stopped to see what I was doing. They said that they liked to draw. We talked about art for a bit, then I turned the conversation to Jesus. They were not interested and walked away, but at least they heard His name.

I didn’t stay long at this location, as I wanted to get away to paint the east face of Pasadena City Hall. I had painted the picturesque west face many times, but since the light was in my favor to paint the east side, I quickly packed up my supplies and made the short journey to PCH.

Distractions are Welcome

Most of my plein air paintings are 100% complete when I leave the site. However, since my primary purpose for being there is not to paint, but to share God’s love with curious onlookers, I allow the desired interruptions distract me from the artwork. When I return to my studio, I may see minor things that will improve the painting, such as correcting a color, softening a background, adding a clarifying detail and other little things.

Occasionally, such as in the painting of Jakes, I leave the site with so many areas that need work that I will put it away with the notion that no one but me will ever see it again. Today, as I was thumbing through some of my paintings, I came across this and thought it would be a fun challenge to fix it.

What was wrong? 1. Distracting black shadows that stopped one’s eyes from moving freely down the alley (I’ve since taken black off my palette. I now mix ultramarine blue and burnt umber to get a warm or cool black). 2. Background trees too prominent (no atmosphere). 3. shadows in foreground buildings dirty. 4. Right side of painting too clean. 5. street too plains… and other stuff.

So, I set out to make some corrections and hopefully some improvements, but very cautiously knowing that when I alter my plein air work in the studio, it could lose the spontaneity and freshness of the piece. Since the Jakes painting had so many unpleasant elements, I figured that if I made it worse, it was not a problem since I had no plans to show it in its present condition.

Here’s the altered version.

Jakes Adjusted
When is a Plein Air Painting not a Plein Air Painting?

So when does a plein air painting become a studio painting when it is brought indoors for completion? I don’t know of any exact rule, but I set a benchmark for myself; if more than 10% of the original artwork done on site is altered in the studio, it is no longer a plein air painting but a studio painting. I feel obliged to let any potential buyer know if there has been significant alteration after the original painting is done on location. If you know of a more exact science or you have your own criteria, please let me know.

Which version do you like best?

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