So, what it's like to take a plein air painting workshop? What do you do? Should I take one? Read on!
At the end of October, I attended a five-day plein air painting workshop in Franklin, Tennessee. Painting “plein air” simply means painting outside. The workshop was instructed by Marc Hanson and hosted by On Track Studios.
The workshop was fantastic. My painting instruction thus far is fairly limited (Painting 101 at Tulane University in 2006 and a not-for-credit intermediate acrylic class at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio in 2010) and I was desperate for some help.
Marc Hanson is an accomplished and well-known painter. I’ve followed his work for several years. I think I first discovered his work on Pinterest (slightly embarrassing) and then heard him interviewed on the podcast Artists Helping Artists. This is his painting that first caught my eye. Look at how feathery those clouds are! Like me, he tends to work from landscape scenes that are quite regular – many people might call them boring – but he masterfully transforms these scenes into stunning paintings.
I had heard Marc is a good instructor so I jumped at the chance to take a workshop from him. I have never painted outside, so I was a little nervous to see what that would be like.
On Track Studios is a lovely facility in the rolling hills outside of Franklin, Tennessee, which is about 20 miles south of Nashville. The barn-like studio sits on two acres and is home to six private artist studios as well as large common spaces for classes, events and meals. We spent some of our time at the studio and most of our time outside at two different century farms.
Marc did at least one demonstration every day. All of the eight painters in our class had a good deal of painting experience and Marc structured the workshop and tailored his demonstrations accordingly. On each of the five days, Marc demonstrated a different way of starting a painting. He spent about an hour on the demo and then we were to walk around the beautiful grounds, pick a spot and paint a painting using the same method for starting the painting. He made rounds while we were painting, giving us generous one-on-one instruction and critique.
The first day, we did a monochromatic transparent block-in, the second day we did a full-color transparent block-in, the third day we did a full-color opaque block-in, then an impressionistic block-in and then on the last day, which was absurdly cold, we attempted something he calls “direct painting.”
Marc also did a super useful color-mixing demonstration and on the last afternoon, we had a group critique. I painted in acrylic all week, but the other students painted in oil. Marc offered to paint directly on the oil painters’ paintings for the critique. I was impressed all week by Marc’s ability to find and capture a scene and turn it into a beautiful piece of art, but I was impressed in a whole new way when I saw him paint on others’ paintings. It makes sense that he would be able to paint in his style and method, with his colors and produce something beautiful, but to watch him just jump into someone else’s half-done painting and improve it vastly within ten to twenty minutes was wild.
On one of the freezing mornings, we spent some time gathered around the cozy, farmhouse-style table in On Track’s kitchen. Marc held court over a little painting philosophy session and I furiously scribbled down some quotes from his favorite passages on painting. Two really resonated with me and what I am trying to do:
“It is the artist’s prerogative to reveal the beauty of things to those less fortunate – to those who can’t see it.”
“It is so much greater to make much of little than little of much.”
I learned about simultaneous contrast, where cast shadows are warmer and cooler, that you shouldn’t have too many sky holes and, among other things, that painting outside is a joy and a challenge.
I would highly recommend taking a class or workshop from/through Marc Hanson and On Track Studios.