Plein Air and Beyond

Plein Air

Nature is my own private studio.  The watercolor imagery on paper, the thoughts captured to my journal-by the time this process has begun, I am obligated to the site and to the work. There is comfort in planning my route, hiking to it and choosing a spot to paint. These preparatory steps may empower me with an intimate knowledge of my location. But I can’t predict what happens next.

Sometimes, I set up to paint, find my view and occupy myself right away with a shape or a color. There is no time to understand why I choose a certain focus, so I leave the explanation up to nature. Landscapes, especially remote ones, ask ‘why here?’ and I try to respond in paint. I feel good about my choices, the experience, and the painted object I have made.

There are other times that I honestly cannot focus at my location. What I see stuns me and in this confusing landscape, everything seems to have equal priority. I paint anyway, and my work shows the shifts in my focus. I will leave the site without anything cohesive in my journal. In spite my creative problem, my memory of the setting and weather are accurate enough to serve me well later.


A fruitful outdoor painting experience often drives me into the studio but, then I hit a brick wall. I can’t imagine ‘doctoring’ the freshness of the plein air image. I wonder if judging the painting that earlier seemed so fulfilling is premature.  It takes me a long time, until am I ready to allow myself to alter or edit, to imagine and expand on the original.

Developing a new studio painting from a mixed up sketch can be risky, but I crave it. I want to paint the stunning, confusing landscape that left me ‘artless’. Now I am in the studio with time to unravel the memory while I consider my crazy sketches. I flip through photos and read my notes about the hike and weather. This is a puzzle that is exciting and motivating.

In Between

In my home studio, besides making art, I spend a ridiculous amount time planning and preparing for my painting trips to the backcountry of Baxter State Park. I do this because I don’t want to research a route or plan a meal or wander around looking for painting locations during my precious time in nature. I just want to get at it! Some events, of course, can’t be planned for, and weather is responsible for most of them. In spite of my ‘uber-planning‘, some days I hike and paint, and other days I am forced to work in the lean-to, walk around in the rain and take photographs, and hope for the best. Whatever the case, when my painting trip is over I give myself a pat on the back, get my journals in order, and hope to be inspired.

Susan C. Siegel
May 1, 2013