I’m often asked about why some of my paintings look very loose and brushy and some look much tighter, more detailed. The short answer is that some paintings I do en plein air and some in the studio.
En plein air simply means “outdoors”, and is generally understood to mean painted on location, from life. Because of the immediate nature of the work, and the time constraints (think changing light, rising tide, clouds moving in, etc.), it has a quick and impressionistic feel. Some of these paintings will serve as vital studies for other larger pieces and never be signed or framed. But some of them will be complete and stand as finished paintings worthy of a signature and a frame. They will have a freshness to them and often some sand or bugs or other location souvenirs, which help to tell the story of a particular place and time.
Paintings I complete in my studio benefit from hours of planning and pondering and carefully working to bring a scene and its moods to life. All that is observed, seen, heard, smelled and studied gets funneled into the painting. I use the studies painted on location along with photographs and all I remember to bring the canvas to life. Usually these paintings are much larger and have a more contemplative feel.
Plein air paintings relate to studio paintings much as short stories relate to novels. Both tell stories in different ways, but if successful, both can be moving and effective works of art.