Dawn Whitelaw
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Plein Air: How it Happened to Me

The practice of Plein Air painting has had a resurgence in recent years, but there was a time when it was not so common. When I began my painting career I did not appreciate its benefits to all of my work.

As a enthusiastic, but novice portrait painter, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Everett Raymond Kinstler. Having the greatest respect for Kinstler, I asked him what I could do to learn how to paint better portraits. His answer came as a big surprise to me. He told me to get outside and paint landscapes. He suggested that I work small and quickly try to capture the "effect" of the scene. I thanked him for the advice, but doubted that landscapes could ever be the thing for me. In fact, I had never even ventured outside to paint. How could that be of any use to me? Some time later when I was teaching painting class, one very gifted student asked me how to become a better painter. I heard myself tell her to go outside and paint landscapes. I was as shocked as she was. She asked if I would go with her. That summer, we painted out at daybreak two or three days a week. Honestly the paintings were terrible, but I was hooked on painting in Plein air. Now it is an integral part of my painting. The practice of Plein air landscape has not only impacted my portrait work tremendously, but I discovered that I have a real passion for painting landscapes.

Painter friends often ask me how I can take time from commissions and studio work to paint outside. I say, in honesty that my studio work suffers when I don't take the time to get outside and paint. The lessons learned in the great outdoors are just as applicable in the studio. Plein air painting trips with Frizbe and Loryn Brazier have been great springboards for growth in my painting. I learn, not only from my experience of painting out, but also from seeing their paintings of the same locales I am painting. I am looking forward to learning more when the three of us will be painting for a week in Texas this spring.

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