Painting en plein air -
Barbara Jaenicke, “Gallatin River Memory,” oil, 8 x 10 in., Plein air

By Barbara Jaenicke

When I was an art director in the advertising field, panic deadlines seemed to squeeze out the best creative ideas from myself and my other advertising coworkers. The best ideas often got going sometime after midnight when we knew it was going to be an all-nighter.

However, that’s never been the case for me with painting. Put me under pressure to paint a great piece by a certain deadline, and the result is usually very much the opposite. My best work typically comes when I’m not painting for any show, competition, or gallery in particular; it’s when I can freely explore an idea and not worry about missing a deadline if it fails.

Although I’m an enthusiastic plein air painter, and a frequent practice of painting field studies does indeed make a world of difference in my studio work, my participation in competitive plein air events has allowed me to discover quite a bit about my own personal creative process.

Painting en plein air -
Barbara Jaenicke, “Rugged Grandeur,” oil, 8 x 10 in., plein air

As I’ve observed other plein air painters who excel in these competitive situations, I’ve noticed something interesting. It seems that most of these artists have a particular personality that coincides with these events.

First, many of these artists tend to be very outgoing and are quite comfortable chatting with onlookers at plein air events, even while under time constraints and in a competitive environment. Second, I believe the majority of these artists tend to thrive in situations that call for them to think spontaneously.

There’s of course some degree of planning in any painting, but with the usual time constraints of field painting, the artist must still make quick decisions on the spot. I’ve always admired my favorite plein air painters who excel at this!

Really in any situation in life, if you put me on the spot and ask me to think fast, the outcome isn’t usually stellar. I don’t typically do as well when I can’t plan ahead of time and am forced to “wing it.”

But let’s face it, this is basically what we have to do as plein air painters, since most of us don’t choose our exact subject until we get to a location and see how the light is falling across the landscape.

Truthfully, part of me does sort of enjoy this elusive aspect of plein air painting, but turn on the pressure with a competitive situation and additional time constraints, and I might forget how to paint.

Put me in that situation when I can simply explore, and I tend to focus on pushing my abilities further.

Painting en plein air -
Barbara Jaenicke, “Mountain Overlook in Big Sky,” oil, 11 x 14 in., Plein air

For those of us, like myself, who excel more in our studio work, rather than competitively in plein air events, we tend to be planners. From my subject selection, to my thumbnail sketches, to my studies, and then to my final decisions in my larger studio work, I take my time in the quiet of my studio to carefully think through each stage. For those artists who excel at working more spontaneously, my creative process might put them to sleep.

Consequently, I’ve found that our own unique personalities can often influence how we each achieve our best artistic efforts. So the challenges I mention here are my challenges. You may have these same challenges, and others may find that their creative juices are fired up under different circumstances. I suppose we all have to immerse ourselves in the creative environment that works for each of us individually.

I recently went on a painting trip in Montana with a small group of artist friends. It wasn’t part of any event and it wasn’t to teach. I was simply able to paint what inspired me, and I didn’t need to be concerned if it was a wiper. I returned home with several field studies that I was happy with, shown here in this post, and I’m now inspired to explore some of these subjects further in the studio.

Painting en plein air -
Barbara Jaenicke, “Morning Haze in Big Sky,” oil, 14 x 11 in., Plein air

The longer I’m an artist, the better I understand my own unique creative process and what’s conducive to producing my best work. Of course life gets in the way of ideal circumstances and, as with most professional artists, to make financial ends meet, my schedule is tighter than I’d like.

But I can create more room to be my most effective self when I arrange my schedule as best I can to build in time to explore ideas, both in the field and in the studio, without the panic stress of looming deadlines. And without feeling under pressure.

Now, good luck getting that Queen/David Bowie song out of your head.

Painting en plein air -
Barbara Jaenicke, “Morning Among the Pines,” oil, 10 x 8 in., Plein air

Visit Barbara Jaenicke’s website to see more of her plein air paintings and learn about her upcoming art workshops.

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  1. HI Barbara, very good post. I think more like you do. I can sometimes call up that magic when under pressure in the field at a competition. I do love talking to people when plein air painting and think some of my best work “might” be made in those instances… but I guarantee they are not finished but have come to a point that I want to explore more when I get back to the studio. I have taken a break from most any plein air competition because I feel like it is not who I am. But like you, I do love being outdoors to paint and explore ideas. I thoroughly love painting in the studio when I am free to make all my “wrong” moves and can wipe or brush out the offending passage and go at it from a different angle. I am not so much a planner as your post suggests, though I do a little preliminary planning…. starting with a plan. But, I am more a do something, go sit down a distance, evaluate it, make another decision, and go to the easel and execute that thought… sit again and do the same evaluate and decision making process until I arrive at the end of the painting! I love where your work has come to and I have watched you grow over the years! Again, good post!

  2. Hi Barbara,

    I can totally relate to this post. I am finding I produce my best work when there is no one watching and I have no deadline. And like you I am a planner. I love your work so it’s encouraging to read this post.


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