I feel like it has been ages since I have painted en plein air. Perhaps I feel this way because it is true! But while time, obligation, and health have kept my plein air painting at bay lately, I still think about it very much (not without a lot of longing) and I find myself digging out what plein air pieces I still have and meditating on them. It seems to me that even the weakest studies contain valuable information. Studio works have their place and purpose, and (the good ones) posess a grandeur that is harder to acheive en plein air. But there is a quality about the plein air paintings that continues to distinguish them in my heart and mind as something very special. As incomplete and insufficient as some of them are, they are infused with life and an immediacy that I still find hard to match in the studio. Still, given my life situation at the moment, I shall have to try.
One day recently when I was feeling particularly "homesick" for plein air painting, I came across this little piece that I painted during my trip to the Dordogne. It was tucked away in a stack of unfinished studies that I have not looked at in a long time:
I put it away mainly because I ran out of time to finish it on site, and I really haven't thought much about it since. It doesn't have the wildflowers that were in the field, the middle distance is unresolved, and it is lacking contrast in the row of nearby trees, as well as some other detail. But what it does have is some really good information about the light, as well as a nice loose, light touch that reflects the breeziness of that morning in early summer. And as I looked at it with new eyes, I started to think about new possibilities, and how I might translate the information in this scene to a larger studio canvas.
The location was near a public park just on the outskirts of a little village in France called St. Germain de Bel Air. There were these enormously tall trees that I believe were poplars. They always remind me of Monet because he painted a series of these trees in the countryside near Giverny. I was attracted to the scene not only because of the trees, but because of the way they lined the simple country path that led to the village, and the shadows they cast in great diagonals across the picture plane.
We will see how it goes, but here is my (very) preliminary layout on a 24x30" canvas.