July 12, 2020 Composing En Plein Air

Composing En Plein Air
By Joseph Weinzettle

There are different methods of plein-air composition.

First, there is the standard “window” method for composing your drawing or painting and there is a more open-ended way. The window method was described Italian author-artist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) who started with a drawn rectangle, an “open window from which the subject to be painted may be seen”. Some art teachers use a mat board window to demonstrate this composition method.

This painting in progress, represents a “window” composition, or a single view of the landscape in a vertical rectangular format (below).

Anclote painting in progress_oil over ink wash and silverpoint on paper_2020

Another way of composing, used by American painter Rackstraw Downes, is to build the composition by adding sheets of paper as you go. What the composition becomes is far less predictable than Alberti’s window method.

Below, is how I’ve used this organic method in composing a landscape drawing. My media is bamboo brush and ink over silverpoint on toned gesso-prepared papers:

First sheet in composition_Anclote_2020
Anclote composition_two sheets_2020

I started with a single viewpoint, then slightly pivoted to expand the scope of the composition on my right side. I added a third, fourth and then a fifth sheet on the left (below).

Anclote composition_adding sheets_2020
Anclote composition_3 sheets_2020

I used available sheets of paper. The sizes and tones don’t match. That’s not a concern at this point, as I am working out a plein-air composition, learning about this specific site and space (below).

Anclote composition_4sheets_2020
Bamboo brush on left side of Anclote composition_2020

Downes’ method is adapted to pleinairism, allowing for the curvature of real space. Alberti’s methods limits the artist’s composition to a flat two-dimensional design. Breaking the frame and looking around is an important artist’s tool in composing en plein air.

Anclote composition_5 sheets_2020

I may revisit this composition as a painting, either with a horizontal panel, or in panel sections, such as a triptych. The plein-air drawing process sometimes results in a stand alone artwork for exhibition but importantly, the process developed my awareness and understanding of the site space and its creative possibilities.

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