Stephan Giannini painting in Rome, Italy

Maine artist Stephan Giannini spent days creating two plein air paintings in an apple orchard, and one of them appeared on the cover of the March 2018 issue of PleinAir magazine. Find out why he worked so long on location.

Facebook followers were amazed by the sequence of photographs Stephan Giannini posted that documented the slow, steady progress of a 16 x 12-inch painting of apples hanging on a tree. The artist worked on that plein air piece for five hours every day, over a total of six or seven days. His online friends were surprised that each time he posted photographs of the carefully rendered surface, he commented that he still had a long way to go to resolve his studies. Many said they would have gone home completely satisfied after one five-hour session of work, especially since the subject was one that could have been painted with a few bold strokes of oil color.

Three preliminary stages of “Apples, Hope Orchards” (above and below)

Giannini’s Facebook friends were even more surprised when he followed that first effort by creating an even larger (30 x 14-inch) plein air work of another group of hanging apples. There was no question that both paintings were stunningly beautiful and presented apples in ways few would have considered. He showed familiar objects in a completely new way and, in the process, asked observers to reconsider what they know about the fruit. The paintings were clear evidence that by taking a careful, thoughtful, sensitive approach to presenting a truth about nature, Giannini was identifying plein air painting as a means of achieving another level of expression.

“I decided a long time ago to be more concerned about how I spend my days than on painting plein air products,” Giannini says. “In the case of those two apple paintings, I was happy to spend long days trying to understand and paint the beauty of red apples hanging in dappled light. I was fascinated by the subtle changes in the color when there was a film or dust on the surfaces that muted the colors and shifted the values. I gave almost as much attention to the leaves because they, too, were richly varied surfaces. I talked to the owner of the orchard about the apples I painted and about the yearlong process of growing the fruit, and her information helped to increase my understanding of what I was painting.”

Plein air paintings of apples
“Apples, Hope Orchards” 2017, oil, 30 x 14 in., Collection the artist, Plein air

Giannini credits the Palette & Chisel Academy in Chicago with giving him solid training, as well as the opportunity to work alongside talented and dedicated artists. “The first time I did any plein air paintings was when I went out in the field with other artists associated with the Palette & Chisel,” the artist recalls. “Several of us went to Wisconsin to paint’ and I stayed in Daniel Gerhartz’s loft. One of the artists who joined us was T. Allen Lawson, and working alongside Dan and Tim was an eye-opening experience. When I moved to Connecticut to study at the Lyme Academy in the mid-1990s, I used my free time to continue painting small landscapes outdoors.”

Asked about the specific materials and techniques he uses outdoors, Giannini explains that for many years he painted on linen taped to boards that he would later attach to stretcher bars. However, he now uses Miracle Muck to adhere linen to acid-free boards. “I need a lot of surfaces when I go out on location, and that’s why I switched to lightweight panels,” the artist says.

Two preliminary stages of “Heartfelt Farm Apples” (above and below)

Plein air paintings

Giannini carries a full palette of colors with him when he heads into the field, but he uses only four or five of those oil colors on any one painting. When painting figures in the studio, he works with the so-called Zorn palette of limited colors (yellow ochre, cadmium red medium, ivory black, plus titanium white) through most of the painting and adds a few colors late in the process. He sometimes modifies the oils with medium, either one made with two third mineral spirits and one third linen oil or a fast-drying alkyd-based product. Both indoors and outdoors, the artist starts painting with bristle brushes and then switches to Rosemary Master Stroke brushes.

Plein air paintings of apples
“Heartfelt Farm Apples” 2017, oil, 16 x 12 in., Collection the artist, Plein air

Giannini enjoys traveling and painting, and his substantial and varied talents have allowed him to live and work in a number of countries. “In the last decade, I have resided and painted in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, traveled and painted throughout Southeast Asia, visited Australia and Bali, and I made two long painting trips to Rome and southern Italy in 2013 and 2016. Those began a journey to connect to my Italian roots (I hold a second citizenship).”

This article has been updated since it was originally published in 2018 by Steve Doherty, artist and former Editor of PleinAir Magazine

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