plein air painting - Clare Bowen, “Sunrise, Old Newlyn Harbour,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.
Clare Bowen, “Sunrise, Old Newlyn Harbour,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

Plein air painting is an obsession for Clare Bowen, a UK artist who is on the faculty of the 4th annual Plein Air Live. Be inspired by this feature on the artist and her technique for painting impressionist landscapes in oil, and learn from her in person (from the comfort of your home) at Plein Air Live.

by Laura Vailati
Art enthusiast and Editor at Miami Niche

“There is more than one way to skin a cat,” said British artist Clare Bowen about oil painting: a somewhat creepy idiom with which, however, she has well defined the varied ways in which is it possible to approach oil painting, which she is keen to point out, “are many and all equally valid.”

Her approach, in particular, executed from photographic references, changed dramatically in 2016 when she officially became a professional artist and decided to devote herself totally to plein air painting. Years later, she admits she has become absolutely addicted to painting outdoors.

plein air painting - Clare Bowen, “Cornish Snow,” Oil on linen board, 12 x 12 in.
Clare Bowen, “Cornish Snow,” Oil on linen board, 12 x 12 in.

Clare Bowen’s love of plein air painting was actually a matter of time. Born and raised in a varied natural environment, contrasting the lush English hinterland with the picturesque coastal landscapes, she left her homeland and illustration studies to travel the world for eight long years. Back in Cornwell, England, a place much loved by artists because of the very bright quality of the light that is somewhat reminiscent of the French landscapes typical of the Impressionists, she decided to devote herself totally to painting. She did so with determination by harnessing the rigor, precision, and competitive instincts that characterize her spirit and that have led her to always push her own limits, going so far as to embrace even the moments of discouragement that are part of the game of being an artist. A chance encounter with a book by Carole Marine titled “Daily Painting” did the rest.

Marine’s book is a kind of autobiography that has led the author and her wide audience to appreciate the richness of plein air painting through a gradual and precise daily learning process. The method, as explained by Bowen, consists of making small, live, daily compositions of different subjects that become, with the passage of time and the acquisition of the right amount of confidence, increasingly complex and large-scale compositions. Through this approach, Bowen has acquired a mastery in plein air painting and the freedom of expression necessary to translate onto canvas the set of emotions and sensations derived from the strong empathy that characterizes the artist.

Clare Bowen, “Fishing Boat, St Ives, Cornwall,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.
Clare Bowen, “Fishing Boat, St Ives, Cornwall,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

The quantum leap made by Bowen and documented daily for a full year on her YouTube channel allowed her to reconcile her marked sensitivity to external stimuli with her curiosity, leading her to travel the world. “Painting away from the daily routine is a very stimulating process because it allows you to connect in a new and deep way to nature,” Bowen said. “It’s the best way to capture the atmosphere, the place, the colors, and the moment.”

Clare Bowen, “Kerrowe Cottage, Cornwall,” Oil on board, 12 x 12 in.
Clare Bowen, “Kerrowe Cottage, Cornwall,” Oil on board, 12 x 12 in.

For Bowen, plein air painting reaches its highest expression in “alla prima” painting by which her impressionistic brushstrokes become, metaphorically, an expression of her soul communing with the place and which for this reason sometimes require large media. In executing the composition she does not start from a predefined point but instead lets the flow of the moment decide which element to represent in order of importance: it may be a drifting boat or the variegated sky of a landscape painted at sunrise or sunset.

Her works are created from an initial underpainting made with thin, translucent layers of color, with which she creates a solid base that allows her to emphasize both large shapes and the contrast between light and shadow, and it is only in the final stages that she intervenes with the application of opaque, full-bodied colors that enhance the material physicality of her compositions.

Clare Bowen, “Morning Sparkle, Newlyn,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.
Clare Bowen, “Morning Sparkle, Newlyn,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do,” said Edgar Degas. A statement that finds agreement with Bowen, who experiences art as an inexhaustible source of knowledge both to be acquired and shared.

In addition to being an artist, Bowen is also a qualified art teacher who conducts both in-person and online workshops. She has a strong presence on social media, on YouTube in particular, where every two weeks she posts a video in which she illustrates the compositional process of a recently created work. In addition to being represented by The Harbour Gallery of Portscatho, Cornwall, for which she has done two major solo shows in London’s Chelsea neighborhood (in one of which she sold more than half of the 100 paintings on display) she also exhibits with two prestigious London institutions: the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and The Royal Society of Marine Artists, which specializes in compositions with a maritime character.

Connect with the artist:
Website | YouTube | Plein Air Live, March 9-11, 2023

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