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  • Writer's pictureColin Clark

The Pleinarists

Updated: May 5, 2022

In February 2021, after completing my MA in Illustration, a fellow MA graduate Steve Roberts and I decided we needed to come up for air and agreed that through the rest of 2021we would go out to paint 'en plein air' as the French expression says it or painting outdoors, in all weathers! So we formed....


April 2021- Naunton, Gloucestershire.

The Cotswolds

Painting in the Cotswolds is hard to beat. Sheep, flowers, trees and rolling, hilly countryside combine with dramatic skies and sunny fields to form an endless source of subjects for any artist. Being out in the open air while painting and drawing was such a relief from spending months behind a computer screen or in front of a desk with art materials and paper crowding in on me.

I'd always loved painting in watercolour and so that was my starting point after positioning myself, straddling a cotswold stone wall in front of my small tripod and adapter plate screwed onto a pastry making board.

The village of Naunton held many happy, and romantic, memories from my teenage years as it was where my first girlfriend lived with her mum and sister in a rambling stone cottage in Dale Terrace back in the 1970s and early 80s. Driving back to the road above Naunton, I remembered riding my incredibly slow moped from my home in Stow-on-the-Wold to see my girlfriend most evenings.

But in 2021, looking down on this little village and the sheep lazily grazing in the field I felt a real sense of calm and pleasure while drawing and painting the image above. Watercolour isn't a very forgiving medium. Once you've put down a mark on the paper, it's immediately permanent. There's little you can do to change the marks so it either favours the very careful painter or the more expressive and bold. My technique and working process was a little tight and I wanted to loosen up my 'visual language' or what many call my 'style' of painting.

The MA in Illustration had put me back on track with my art career after spending 10 years not really doing any artwork at all. I had worked as a professional artist in the early 2000's but made the mistake of working only with one dealer who suddenly stopped buying work from me and I was left high and dry with no way to build a portfolio of new work without going broke.

But with all that in the past I felt I was starting a new art career and in a very different way. Working Plein Air means that you're at the mercy of the elements. The weather can change quickly and, depending on how much art gear you have with you, it can take a while to pack up and dash for cover if it starts to rain heavily.

Early March 2021

Steve and I started our adventure in Plein Air painting in the other village that held fond memories for me, Compton Abdale. It was cold, windy and we had far too much gear for our first painting trip. But that first trip hooked us both on painting outdoors and pretty much guaranteed we would be out painting nearly every week from that point onwards.

After fumbling about and trying to work out how to stop our easels and tripods from falling over and where to put our paint and water, we started to paint. Again I chose watercolour while Steve favoured acrylics.

The colour scheme in the landscape was cool and muted and so my colour choices were driven by this. These little sketches were a lot of fun and were automatically a bit looser as it was quite hard to draw and paint in gloves and a thick coat.

We both had snacks and flasks of hot drink to revive us when it got too cold, but we wondered how long it might take for us to become seasoned Pleinarists. We weren't going to be put off by a bit of cold even though we only managed just under two hours on that windy hillside. What excited us both and caught our attention at the end of our session, and we've yet to see again in any other location, was the quality of the sky when it peeked through the clouds. The blue was iridescent and quite a startling hue compared to the colours of the landscape around us. The sky glowed and we stood mesmerised by it. We both wondered how we could possibly capture such a colour in paint.

But by that time we were shivering and needed to head back to my studio to warm up. On nearly all the coming plein air trips we could guarantee we'd end our session in a pub with a pint and a meal but that's for next time.

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