As PleinAir reaches more and more outdoor painting enthusiasts, the selection of the cover image becomes more significant — and sometimes controversial. But there won’t be any argument about the stunning plein air painting by Jean Perry on the cover of the next issue. Find out more about her approach to outdoor painting.
Jean Perry painting on location
It seemed particularly appropriate to celebrate Jean Perry’s 30-year career as a plein air painter, as well as a major museum show of her work, with a cover story in the March 2013 issue of PleinAir by writer and artist Bob Bahr. The Steamboat Art Museum in Colorado is currently presenting a retrospective exhibition of Perry’s paintings (until April 13, 2013; www.steamboatartmuseum.org), along with sculptures by Curtis Zabel. There is also a book available about her extraordinary paintings, Thirty Years of Plein-Air Painting: The Art of Jean Perry, by Susan Hallsten McGarry with a foreword by Richard Schmid (MMG Publications, available through the artist’s website at www.jeanperrystudio.com).
The selected cover painting is one Perry created during one of her many painting trips. She’s always been scouting locations, near her homes in Colorado and Arizona or in distant places. “I may be driving by and see the light on a barn at a particular time of day and jot down in my notebook, ‘red barn at 9 o’clock on such-and-such road,’” she told Bahr. Perry tends to finish a painting in one session of no more than three hours, but she’ll return to a particularly good scene several times to paint a few versions.
“Honey Bee Canyon,” by Jean Perry, 2002, oil, 12 x 16 in. Collection Bob and Sue Neville.
Perry doesn’t premix paints or tone her surfaces in advance, preferring to put a wash — usually a warm tone of primarily transparent red oxide — over the entire surface, wiping out the lights and emphasizing the darks. (Occasionally she will use a lavender wash.) This wash is important for Perry because she dislikes it when the white of an untoned canvas peeks through in a painting, and because with a wash, she can easily wipe off and start over if she feels a design is not working. She uses linen adhered to wood panels from RayMar or SourceTek outdoors, up to 16” x 20” in size, and moves to larger, stretched canvases for the studio. “Studio paintings never seem to have the same excitement that the smaller plein air pieces have, but people actually want the larger paintings,” she says. “With studio work, you do have time for refinement and detail, but plein air is more like poetry. It’s more like writing a poem, as opposed to a novel. When you are out there doing plein air, you have to be able to make every stroke count and put in the emotion.”
Perry’s palette is the standard small palette, with cools and warms of yellow, red, and blue, plus a pair of greens. Her primary brushes are sizes 4 and 8 filbert and size 6 flat synthetic bristle brushes from Princeton’s 6300 series.
“Spring Melt,” by Jean Perry, 2009, oil, 10 x 12 in. Collection the artist.
Like many plein air painters, she paints her big masses first, and establishes the important lights and shadows immediately, both to prevent her from chasing the changing light and to capture the quality of the scene that attracted her in the first place. “It’s a reaction that I’m painting,” says Perry. She says she is careful to link her darks together, and she sometimes strengthens her darkest darks and lightest lights later in the studio. The proper organization and assessment of lights and darks are key to painting a convincing depiction, and Perry says she spends time “exploring how the different lights and darks relate in each family.” For more information, read Bob Bahr’s article in the March 2013 issue of PleinAir or visit Perry’s website: www.jeanperrystudio.com.