June 4, 2019

En Plein Air

        Painting “en plein air” just means painting outdoors, but it’s a fancy art term because it’s French.  Before the mid-nineteenth century, both logistics and tradition required that art be made properly in a studio, but with the invention of pre-made paint in tubes for portability, and the new interest in capturing natural light and various time and weather conditions and optical effects, artists began taking their easels outdoors and working en plein air.  Most of the earlier plein air artists were using oil paints, but nowadays it’s probably even more popular with watercolors.  At any rate, it certainly doesn’t have much to do with block printing!
        Back in April, Needham Open Studios held our annual plein air painting event to help advertise and build excitement for our Open Studios weekend.  We collaborate with a local farm/garden center and usually have artists working in shifts through the day, about three at a time in various areas around Volante Farms.  It’s been an enjoyable event, and I usually take a shift sitting at the information table, since I’m not a painter.  This year, however, a little confusion and miscommunication meant that one of the artists I thought would be painting thought that she would be sitting at the table, so that left me in the role of plein air artist!
        It was not as beautiful a day as we’ve had some years - a little chilly, a little windy, and looking as if it might be inclined to sprinkle - so we all set up in the large greenhouses instead of outdoors.  (I guess that makes it plein-ish air, but it was certainly natural light, at least.)  Anyway, I chose as my subject a handsome pot of mixed succulents, and spent my plein air shift just sketching it.  I had to fall back on stodgy old tradition and return to my studio to transfer the sketch to rubber, carve, and print the block.  So no, it really isn’t a proper plein air piece, but I think it’s about as close as you can get with block printing!

[Picture: AEGN at work, photo by M. Grundy, 2019;
Succulents, rubber block print by AEGN, 2019.]

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