Outdoor Painter and Plein Air Painting

Co|So artist member Kathleen Breeden Hudson posted a solution she developed to a common plein air painting challenge she faced to her blog. It turns out Hudson was not alone; her post caught the attention of Outdoor Painter who published an article about her new method!

Plein air painting is a type of painting that involves creating artwork from life outside in the open air. This method yields art that captures fleeting moments - such as a wave breaking or the light at sunset - which cannot be recreated in a studio. Outdoor painting can be cumbersome. It requires the artist to take their supplies out on location and work very quickly.

Hudson has been blogging about the trials and tribulations, as well as the joys of her craft on her personal blog. In one post, titled “Grandeur and Scale”, she describes her process of composing her painting. She asks herself, “What way of looking at the view gives the greatest impression of scale? Of light? Of movement and drama?”

These questions of composition are often answered through trial and error. Even the great masters drafted, discarded and redrafted before landing on the perfect composition. In another post, “Year in Review, Part II: Augusta”, Hudson describes a different experience:

“On the last day of the festival, I still hadn't managed to paint a sunrise since Day 1. It had been overcast almost every morning, which made it impossible for me to paint a scene (any scene!) … sunrises possess a distinct advantage: instead of fighting against time, losing the light you need as a sunset progresses, daylight only gets brighter following a sunrise. That gives you a lot more time to create a beautiful painting, though you do still have to work quickly … So when the forecast showed that the sun would be visible on the final day of Augusta, I knew I'd have just one chance to paint a landscape during the sunrise.”

As we can see from Hudson’s experience, the outdoor painter must be aware of the natural time constraints of daylight and the weather. Creating the perfect composition has to be done in a swift manner, without compromising accuracy. Hudson realized to best utilize her time she needed to be more precise with her preliminary sketches:

“After doing really loose sketches for a while, I thought it would be helpful to create compositions a bit more carefully with my panel sizes in mind. I've traditionally just 'guesstimated' the size of a thumb sketch, but it's never right on the mark—and I don't really want to fuss with a ruler or anything that'll add weight to my pack.”

Hudson developed a guide to mark out in her sketchbook an area proportionate to the surface she intends to paint on. She included the most commonly used ratios all in one chart. This makes it easier for the artist to visualize what the composition will look like before they begin to add color.

Her idea is brilliant in its simplicity. It perfectly addresses the major concerns of the plein air painter. It is no wonder Outdoor Painter Magazine published an article sharing her invention with other artists!

If you are a fan of landscapes and outdoor painting, you will love Co|So’s annual fundraising gala, Fresh Paint! We will be featuring a painting done by Kathleen Breeden Hudson! In honor of Hudson’s achievement and Fresh Paint, Co|So is going to be taking a deeper look at outdoor painting. We are going to post a series of blogs on the history of plein air painting leading up to Fresh Paint.