John Hughes working on location / painting plein air
John Hughes working on location

Artists are inspired through painting plein air and in the art studio – here are some motivating factors to consider.

How Do Motivating Factors Differ Between Plein Air and Studio Work?

The first thing that comes to mind is intent. I know this may rub some the wrong way, but as landscape painters, when we paint in the studio we’re usually painting with the “end goal” of creating a product. If we weren’t, we’d be outside all the time, and I realize many are, but that’s another story to be explored on its own merits.

Now, does that mean this is all we are doing when we paint in the studio? Of course not, as true artists we “live to paint”, in spite of the fact that many artists “paint to live” as well.

John Hughes, "Diamond Fork Canyon," 2023, oil, 10 x 12 in., plein air
John Hughes, “Diamond Fork Canyon,” 2023, oil, 10 x 12 in., plein air

It’s not an either/or situation; these two concepts are just a fact of life and both are capable of coexisting if we keep our artistic priorities in order. And what is that order you ask? The answer is: Never sell out on quality and always put your heart and soul into your work. That’s pretty straightforward, right? Let’s face it, a real artist would still be creating art whether it was selling or not.

Without delving too far into the profit motive though, let me just say that getting paid for what you do is not a bad thing. Earning a living at your art, even a partial living, is not selling out in any way. As a matter of fact, like any other form of commerce, goods, and services, you are helping to create wealth and a decent living for many others in the supply and distribution chain of your art. You are doing a good thing, so keep it up, and by all means, enjoy the experience guilt-free!

Painting landscapes in the art studio
“…we can often overcome the limiting confines of the studio as well, with our heightened sensibilities.”

What are some other motivations that drive landscape painters in the studio? To answer this one I’ll list some of the motivating factors for painting on location, because the motivations are basically the same at this point:

9 Motivations for Painting in the Studio or Outside:

  1. The immense joy of painting.
  2. Satisfying the creative urge.
  3. Savoring the natural beauty of nature.
  4. The thrill of translating that into paint.
  5. Learning to become a better artist through practice.
  6. Sharpening your design skills.
  7. Learning to see more effectively.
  8. Improving your artistic quality.
  9. Being productive at what you do.

5 Motivations for Painting en Plein Air:

  1. Seeing the values and color relationships of nature clearly and not having to rely on memory, or risk being fooled by photo reference.
  2. Painting out in the landscape and experiencing the location as a multi-sensory event; like feeling the sun on your face, hearing the chirping of birds, and smelling the fragrance of the natural environment. Truly it’s a time for reveling in this unique experience.
  3. Being one with nature and art.
  4. Painting a pure study of nature for art’s sake and personal knowledge alone.
  5. Positive social interaction with other artists and onlookers in the field.

As you can see, there are many parallels between the two traditional methods, except for the last five; but the fact that artists are imaginative beings, we can often overcome the limiting confines of the studio as well, with our heightened sensibilities!

John Hughes, "Canyon Study," oil, 10 x 12 in., plein air
John Hughes, “Canyon Study,” oil, 10 x 12 in., plein air

I’m sure you can come up with a few of your own reasons to paint in the studio or out on location – share them with us in the Comments section below.

Enjoy your time on location and do the same in the studio, they both go hand in hand in so many ways, and each contributes to the success of the other!

Until next time,

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John Hughes
John Hughes teaches landscape painting classes for Salt Lake Community College and the Scottsdale Artist School, along with private art workshops and classes. His work is represented by Montgomery Lee Fine Art (Utah) and Mountain Trails Gallery (Wyoming). Hughes is a member of the Plein Air Painters of Utah, Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, and the American Impressionist Society. John’s work and art advice has been featured in Plein Air magazine, Fibonacci Fine Arts Digest, 15 Bytes magazine, Outdoor Painter, and Artists on Art. His work was recently featured in the book "Painters of the Grand Tetons" by Donna and James Poulton. He now maintains a studio in Taylorsville Utah, where he resides with his wife Teresa, four children, and two grandchildren.


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