People . . . Who Paint People en Plein Air

McMahon’s plein air setup on Fort Myers Beach
McMahon’s plein air setup on Fort Myers Beach

Kathryn A. McMahon is not one of those plein air painters who are bothered by passersby. She puts them into her paintings, and chats with them. How?

Recently McMahon painted two plein air oil studies in preparation for a larger piece, on the beach at Fort Myers in Florida, and she was keen on incorporating people in her compositions. “I started with the landscape and colors and values,” she says. “Then, as people started to arrive at the beach to take their places, I started to put them into the painting. Many were walking toward me.”

Plein air painting study of people on beach
“Gathering,” by Kathryn McMahon, 2016, oil, 8 x 6 in.
Plein air painting study of people on beach
“The Marines Are Coming on the Beach,” by Kathryn McMahon, 2016, oil, 8 x 6 in.

How does she place them in her paintings?

“I focus quickly on certain people, and being a small oil, they are easy to place on the canvas,” says McMahon. “I use the wood end of my brush. I dip it into a color and shape the person’s position. Of course their head is a dot.

“I try to not be too colorful with the people, as the painting can be spotty. Yellow ochre and bit of orange works for the figures. I place a bit of color for their bathing suits.

“As I am painting, many people love to watch, and I explain how I paint them into the painting. I find talking while painting relaxes me, and I paint better. As I was painting one of my small paintings, the Marines came along singing their running chant, and I had to place them in. I used quick strokes of the same color [dark blue] from the end of my brush to paint the Marines, and called it, ‘The Marines are Coming.’ It was such fun, the weather was perfect, and these two small oil studies/paintings sold quickly.”

This article was originally published in 2017


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