Get Intimate with Shallow Depth Paintings en Plein Air

The relatively shallow space between our eyes and the ground is a haven of interesting textures, colors, and aromas, especially for plein air painters. Bethann Moran-Handzlik explains.

BY BETHANN MORAN-HANDZLIK
(bethannmoran.com)

When my children were young I spent a great deal of time, like so many mothers do, looking down; looking at the sidewalk, the leaves against the grass, the place where the houses meet the earth. By looking down I could see my toddler in my peripheral vision.

I could stoop to reach nearly everything in my visual field; so intimate. A gardener knows this kind of immediacy, kneeling in the earth, digging, harvesting, planting. While painting “Dreaming of Windflowers” I could reach out and trail my hand delicately over the floating blossoms at arm’s length.

"Dreaming of Wildflowers" in progress
“Dreaming of Wildflowers” in progress
Oil painting of wildflowers
Bethann Moran-Handzlik, “Dreaming of Windflowers,” 16 x 20, oil, 2020, private collection

Oil painting of wildflowers in progress

Oil painting of wildflowers
Bethann Moran-Handzlik, “Like Sunlight,” 16 x 20 in., oil, 2020, available from artist

The relatively shallow space between our eyes and the ground is a haven of interesting textures, colors, and aromas. This shallow space doesn’t project us into the future or the past; it is a very present tangible space. It is like sitting with a friend and gently touching them when speaking or catching a whiff of their breath.

That is how I felt painting these roses below. I loved it so much I went back to paint a larger , 28×32-inch version.

Painting roses en plein air

Oil painting of roses
Bethann Moran-Handzlik, “Becka’s Roses,” 16 x 20 in., oil, 2020, available from artist

In a shallow depth painting we can account for the scale and proportion in a direct way. The term en plein air, to paint in the “open air,” often suggests the broader landscape; the sweeping vistas that we can only reach with our eyes.

I love to paint the vista; it moves my heart in ways a shallow depth painting cannot. And yet it is the humble shallow spaces that I have been exploring in my plein air work.

Oil painting of dahlias on easel

Oil painting of dahlias
Bethann Moran-Handzlik, “Last Dahlias on Reed Street,” 18 x 24 in., oil, 2020, available from artist

Some of the spaces are wild and some cultivated. The painting starts inches from where I stand. In the case of “Wild Astor’s at the Elk Farm” (below) I took off my shoes and included them within the scene.

The shallow space stops our eye from traveling further; calling us perpetually back to the moment, the fragrance and the intimate visual feat right before us.

Painting en plein air

Detail from “Wild Astor’s At Elk Farm"
Detail from “Wild Astor’s At Elk Farm”
Bethann Moran-Handzlik, “Wild Astor’s At Elk Farm,” 16 x 20 in., oil, 2020, available from artist
Bethann Moran-Handzlik, “Wild Astor’s At Elk Farm,” 16 x 20 in., oil, 2020, available from artist

Connect with Bethann Moran-Handzlik:
Website | Instagram

Related > Bethann recently won 3rd Place Overall in the PleinAir Salon, December 2020 (see her winning floral painting here).


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