– Stefan Baumann reporting –

In this piece, California artist Stefan Baumann gives his advice on how plein air artists can keep their painting skills “toned up” for the warmer, painter-friendly months of the year. Baumann, an instructor at the upcoming Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), is the producer and star of a public television series called “The Grand View.” 

Lead Image: Stefan Baumann

Unlike most artists, plein air painters abandon their studios, pack up their paints, brushes, canvas, boards, and easels to paint in the countryside, where they capture their subjects and compositions direct from nature. This year many artists are preparing to travel to Tucson, Arizona, for the 5th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), where hundreds of plein air artists will congregate, share ideas, and paint together. But not so fast….

Before painting outdoors, at home, or at the convention, it is a good practice to hone your skills by painting a still life in your studio. The saying “use it or lose it” can be applied to painting. Just like any athlete or musician who prepares for an event or concert, artists benefit from practicing before they paint outdoors at a major plein air event. Attending an event like PACE creates excitement, anxiety, and frustration, especially for artists who are attending for the first time. Taking the time to prepare yourself in your studio by painting still life subjects before the event refreshes your skills, helps you see value and color, and sharpens your visual and drawing abilities.

A still life Baumann painted to illustrate his way of practicing
A still life Baumann painted to illustrate his way of practicing

Painting from life is the same whether you are painting a teacup or a cactus. Painting a still life allows time to rethink how to see and how to apply paint to create effects. It also tunes up drawing skills to create correct perspective and proportion, and sharpens color-mixing and painting-application skills in an environment that is controlled and comfortable. Composition ideas can be designed before going out to paint at the event to ensure a sense of readiness when the paint-out hour arrives and it is time to apply all the new and interesting insights that you have practiced as well as what you learn from other artists throughout the week.

Sharpening your skills before the event is a good way to prepare for PACE and the plein air season in general. Everything that you might encounter visually at the convention’s sites can be practiced by painting a still life in the studio. By using the correct application of paint, the right values, the correct temperatures of the subject, the best consistency of the paint, and the right colors, an artist can transform a three-dimensional image that is viewed and painted by brush on a canvas surface into a two-dimensional painting that is believable to the viewer. It takes practice to acquire the skills needed to accomplish all of this in 2-plus hours, but the rewards are significant and memorable.

Baumann will be a field instructor at the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), a five-day gathering of more than 800 plein air painters in a resort featuring artists at the top of the field offering demos, lectures, and instruction. This year’s event is set for April 15-19 at El Conquistador Resort in Tucson. To see the faculty lined up for this year’s PACE, and to get more information, go here.


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