Plein-air Painting in Florence, Italy.

Plein-air painting is such a sport!

“Plein-air” is a French term that means quite simply “open air” or used to describe the act of painting outdoors.

Where do I even begin to talk about this? I’m taking a summer abroad program where we set up and paint our easels with the class in different locations around Florence. Florence has such beautiful sceneries to paint and there are always amazing things to paint. But, we are lugging around our heavy outdoor easels that weigh anywhere from 10-15 pounds along with our art supplies and hiking up and down Florence! I’ve literally been feeling hunger, feeling like I’m not satisfied by what I’m eating because I’m always walking and moving around!

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Hey its me! No joke! I have to make sure I put on bug spray (I have Deet 100 from REI) and sunblock before I leave in the mornings. A hat is so necessary, we don’t know if we’re going to get a shady spot to paint, or sometimes the lighting changes significantly as the day goes. The easel is called Craftech Plein Air Easel which I bought online for  $101.99 through Madison Art Shop.  I also have oil paints and brushes, a thin board with a handle to carry the wet painting home– as well as all the necessary paint gear like turpenoid, linseed oil, and some 9×12 canvas paper, paper towels,  and I have a disposable palette that I just toss at the end of the day. We do about two paintings a day. Or we can sketch the second one. Its really a great experience being outdoors and drawing what you see.

Sometimes we’re at the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michaelangelo, or at different Piazzas around the city. Every thursday we go on a field trip to different cities and its optional to bring our easel or we can walk around to take photos and sketch. We’ve been to Fiesole, Cortona, San Gimignano, and will still go to Lucca and Siena in the next few weeks. Having the experience walking around the city everyday has given me a sense of space and dimension and I am starting to see things in a different perspective. You have to walk outside to really experience the details in the architecture and buildings, and also being able to tell the difference in lighting at different times of the day. For example in the mornings, the light is lower to the ground. But then after noon it peaks and is much higher and a bit brighter. I usually notice the difference when my shoulders start getting burned! And then at the point its time for lunch or a new afternoon location around the area!

My first week’s paintings weren’t too impressive, but now I’ve noticed I’m starting to compose my background paintings a bit better. There also simple rules and guidelines that we follow when composing a painting. I won’t go into depth but the basics are too have a foreground, middle ground, and background. Then having a focal point or area of interest where the light is and having a contrast between the values. The rule of thirds is also important because of the way you divide up the canvas, the horizon line can’t be too dead center– or it can become boring and uninteresting. Its either better to have a higher or lower horizon.

Here are a few that I was able to remember to photograph! I will need to scan the rest of them soon! But, none o f these pieces are too finished since we are working on a 9×12 sized canvas paper and the goal of plein air painting is to have loose sketch paintings to convey the mood and weather of the location.

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