My 1st "En Plein Air" experience

My 1st "En Plein Air" experience

I share with you my 'first time' with outdoor painting as I wanted to know why so many people loved it so much and if it was me.

Penshaw View

For as long as I've painted I've been in awe of those few who go into the great outdoors with just a couple of carrier bags of gear and return five mins later with a masterpiece. I would look at their creation with my jaw resting on my chest and think 'bloody hell, I'd love to be able to do that'. So, after several years of the comfort of my studio I decided to hatch a plan to do just that. So I made a list. First thing on my list was a pocharde box and my timing couldn't have been better. It was rapidly approaching christmas and my mother was complaining bitterly about how I'm a nightmare to buy for, (not true, I'm a delight, chocolates a DVD or book and I'm happy). So I told her that if she had to get me something then she could get me a cheap pocharde box, followed by a twenty minute conversation on what a pocharde box was, followed by another twenty minute conversation on 'why they didn't just call it an outdoor easel and be done with it'. We agree to disagree, (I agree and she is just sure she is right anyway), and I come away knowing at least what one of the gifts under the christmas tree is without having to shake the life out of it. Next for me was paints, brushes and canvas, the canvas I decided to wait till I had the pocharde box so I could measure it properly. The paints I had already decided for my first attempt would be a cheap set from a local shop. They came with a good range of colours in small tubes and for an increadibly cheap price, (there was a reason for that). Brushes I have in abundance, like most artists, I probably have too many and too many will still never be enough. Christmas came and to my delight I got a pocharde box, but that was all it was, a box, no legs. A little bit of looking up and I discover that some come with and some without. No worries I thought, I'm an engineer by day, I'll whistle up some legs from an old tripod I have, at work, on nightshift, during my breaks, while no one is around to tell me off. All that done and I was ready, nothing was going to stop me now, I just needed a nice day and I was going to spend this year outside painting, yes 2020 was going to be my year......that didn't go as planned. When we were finally allowed out of our homes for more than one hour of exercise a day I was so snowed under at work it was unreal. I did think when it was first annouced that the country was going into lockdown that it would only be for a few weeks and that it would be good to spend time in the studio and catch up on some projects and start a load of new ones. I rushed out and bought a load of new canvases and paints and yet more brushes, I couldn't work from home with one job but I certainly could with my other. Again.... someone must have been looking down on me and started laughing. Everyone, and I mean everyone where i worked and I'm talking hundreds of people, were furloughed...except me. I was needed to keep the place ticking over, check all the systems, ensure there was a building for everyone to come back to. I was starting to think that there was a higher power.... and they really didn't like my paintings. Everything was starting to return to normal for me around September and I was thinking I'd better pull my finger out or the weather will turn too wintery for me to paint, unless I'm fancying a winter scene, (ideally for me, done through the window of a really warm room). The time had come and I'd put it off too many times, that Friday morning I was off work so I loaded up the car. I'd already given a lot of thought as to where I was heading, and changed my mind so many times, then as I was driving I looked up and changed my mind again. On the horizon, standing atop a huge hill (should have thought about that) to be seen for miles around was Penshaw Monument. Now, you know I live near Sunderland. I parked at the bottom , collected my gear and looked up at it and thought ' bugger, thats steep', then I set of. There is something to be said for those little wheeled trollies some people use. Half way up and some sensible person had put a seat for those of us who noticed how thin the air was getting, I turned around to see how far up i'd come to see a liitle old lady about to overtake me and looking as fresh as if she had just popped out to the shop for a bottle of milk. Being the proud man that I am, and swearing under my breath, I was not to be shown up by this old dear and off up the hill i went, hoping she had a signal on her phone to get an ambulance if needed. I finally got to the top and, trying to breath quietly rather than reveal my true level of fitness, I had a good look around. Only to see the old lady had vanished along the path half way up the hill into the woods, the panting and gasps commenced, (the equipment was heavier than I expected, honest!). Those of you who have visited this monument know that you can climb up into it for some great views, you only have to scramble up a block about 4 foot high. Looking forward to that with all the gear I was carrying. I had a good look around around for the best views, and it was safe to say they were all pretty great but I found the one I wanted. While looking I came across a couple of guys from the Trust who look after the monument, installing a set of wooden stairs to allow easy access.....Why couldn't they have done it a day earlier. I scrambled up and set up, the view was breathtaking, no camera could do it justice, the weather was lovely, and it was quiet...for a good 3 mins. One of the joys of a local monument is its very frequently visited, despite social distancing, it quickly filled 2 meter distances. This resulted for me in lots of people trying to have a look and ask questions, but when they are standing at a distance its a bit tricky to work out if they are talking to me or someone else.....If anyone did ask me a question and i ignored you...sorry, didn't realise, honest, I'm lovely to talk to and I could talk all day about painting.....Probably why I'm not known as the life and soul of all parties. I had planned to be there for most of the day, I had a couple of empty canvases and that cheap box of paints that were a real steal. This was one of those lessons that is learnt the hard way. I opened the first tube of paint, which was the white, I broke the seal and it looked ok, not brilliant but white, and I sqeezed it out. Pop!!! That was the sound it made as it deposited a blob of white paint, then a large tube full of air, then another white blob. 'Bugger' was the word going round my mind at the time. Well I decided I enjoyed a good challenge so lets see what I can do while making every brush count. After countless 'mornings' and 'hellos' and 'yes, I am painting' I noticed the wind was starting to pick up, good job I wasn't standing inside a very open monument on one the highest points in the area..... After 2 hours of painting while holding the easel and canvas steady with one hand, and one foot on my bag and juggling a couple of brushes from my other hand to where i was holding them in my teeth, I ran out of paint, luckily, just as I decided to call the painting finished. It may not be the masterpiece that I had hoped for but it was a painting that I had a lot of fun doing and was filled with all the memories of this day, and i was still very proud of it, 2 hours with limited paint and a gale force (almost) wind. I loved it all. I collected my gear and went down the newly built stairs, with a lot more dignity than I got up there might I add. Going down the hill was more of a delight, despite the stares from passer-bys looking at my paint covered face. Mental note to add wipes for next time. And there will be a next time, as for the obsticles that were in my way, I loved every minute of it. They are right when they say a photo won't do it justice, and what you learn about observation and changes in light can't be read in a book but must be experienced. Talking to the people who loved my work is a buzz of its own, like your own personnal high. I can't recommend it enough, and I'd also say try to be as prepared as you can, but not to worry if you've forgot something as it makes it all the more 'interesting', and you'll think about it for a long time to come and hopfully smile, like I do when I look at that painting.

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Well done Alan, I've tried the odd bit of plein air and it really does make you so much more observant.

Love your painting and the story Alan. You’re braver than me, if I paint outdoors I always make sure I’m hidden from public view!