Spineless? Never!, 8” x 10” oil, © Renée Bates
As a painter, I use technology for capturing the light, or a moment in time. I work as a plein air and studio painter. Plein air is a term defined as pertaining to a manner or style of painting developed chiefly in France in the mid-19th century, characterized by the representation of the luminous effects of natural light and atmosphere as contrasted with the artificial light and absence of the sense of air or atmosphere associated with paintings produced in the studio. Plein air can also be defined as designating a painting executed out of doors and representing a direct response to the scene or subject in front of the artist. Lastly, a plein air painting is defined as having the qualities of air and natural light.
The business of “chasing the light,” as the sun moves across a scene, can make an artist crazy or in the least, make for a poor painting. The “values,” or light and dark bits, are what make the thing read, even more than the color. If you cannot capture it all quickly, you will lay out a painting, work it for a bit, then take a photograph and finish in the studio. Technology is most helpful here. The artist of former centuries had to work fast, or they had photographic memories.
I am probably most grateful for cell phones with quality cameras. A photography instructor recently said, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” True. I regularly capture wildlife shots and beautiful horticulture with my phone camera. While it doesn’t get great detail at far distances, it does afford me many action shots.
When setting up plein air, I will often look through the lens at a scene for scale or, take a photograph and use the cropping tool to decide how I want to lay it out on canvas. Back at the studio, with Photoshop and similar software, I will sometimes punch up the color in an image, or blur it for a more impressionistic effect. I will work from a print or use the computer monitor to view as my source. I like to blow up flowers with the cropping software to achieve an abstract view.
When a painting is nearly there, I will take a photograph to see how well I have communicated with the lights and darks, and I’ll always find areas that need tweaking.
Using photos to electronically market on websites and social media is current practice for most artists. The technology with these platforms has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. I created a website in just eight hours. I look forward to seeing how much better technology will be in five years.
About Renee Bates
Renee is an artist focused on growing a newfound ability to express herself through oil painting, recently leaving her role as executive director of the non-profit Greenways for Nashville to pursue art and product development. Renee likes being in nature, hiking, birding, and working in the garden. Married to David Bates of Bates Nursery and Garden Center, a 3rd generation business begun in 1932. Renee admires the fact that it was begun by a savvy woman, Bessie Bates. Renee’s art may be enjoyed from her website or followed on Facebook.
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2 responses to “Artist Tech”
Great article, Renee! I never realized how important photos are for plein air artists. When I think of the style, I think of Monet and his haystacks which track the sun during the day across multiple paintings.
Thanks, Norma. Monet’s work is beautiful and the fact that he kept painting well into old age with failing eyesight is inspiring.