This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
I'm not a painter or artist of any kind notwithstanding my The Little Rattuses children's book series which is far more cartoonish than ever I'd label it art, but like they say: I may not know much about art but I know what I like, and it is a truism! Art, as a form of beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.
That doesn't mean we can't learn to better appreciate more of it, and to me that's why it's always useful to read a book like this one, which is not so much about art appreciation, but very much about art creation, particularly in the outdoors (the En Plein Air of the title) - and importantly how to travel light when you're on an expedition to find a locale and capture something there on canvas.
It occurs to me that there's no better way to appreciate art than to understand from an artist's perspective, what it takes to put together an eye-catching painting. This is the first of two En Plein Air book I shall be reviewing. The other is about watercolor - a medium that is often taught to kids in primary school, which is probably a bad idea, but while on the one hand it is an unfortunately cheap and favored solution, on the other, it is an introduction to art, and any such intro is better than none, I guess!
I have to say that the book is aimed at a print book audience, so the ebook version I had to review sliced up some of the paintings, and failed to show pages in juxtaposition, thereby diluting if not derailing the author's message and making it harder to compare one with another when you had to keep sliding the screen back and forth instead of sliding your eyes back and forth.
I've seen some ebooks that did present as a two-page view and I typically found that annoying since there seemed to be no reason for it, but in this case, there really was a valid reason to show the book in this format and it was viewable only as single pages, which downright spoiled parts of it. But as an amateur reviewer, ebooks are the new print copies, I'm sorry to say!
But anyway! The author starts out by briefly introducing the medium and the tools by which it is applied, talking about acrylic paints, and about canvases, brushes, and techniques for bringing all three together into a harmonious result. It's a bit like magic, isn't it?! The brushes are the wands, the medium is the spell and the painted canvas is the result.
Referring often to his own long experience, the author discusses lighting, paint hues, tints, tones and shades, paint temperature (and no it's not about freezing your butt off while sitting outdoors painting!) and about differences between acrylic and oil - and it's not just the price! There are even differences within acrylics which are well-worth knowing. There are many photographs - of paintings! - which admirably illustrate the points he makes in the brief, but highly illuminating text sections.
I have to say that some of the pictures did not look great to me, but many of them have an impressionistic element to them and I am not a big fan of the impressionists. I can't say how this author (who was a public school art instructor for some three decades) would describe his own work; I can only speak to how it appears to my amateur eyes, but to them, other paintings looked wonderful.
Talking of impressionism, two of these really made an impression on me. My favorite was the Morning Glow which he included on page 98 in a discussion of temperature blending. That painting was great and truly captured its subject. The two paintings on the next page, Corner in Winter and Deep Woods Violets were worthy of a special mention, too.
The other painting was revealed in stages starting on page 84, as the artist walks us through putting together an entire painting from scratch: how he does it and what his thinking is at each stage. This was very educational. The interesting thing for me though, was that I considered the painting to be perfect and highly atmospheric on only step three, and liked it less well as other elements were added to complete it in step 6.
It just goes to ask that old question: if a work of art ever really complete, and how do you know if it is? Eye of the beholder again! Another example was when I thought the pencil sketch made to assess values for a painting on page 82 was more impressive than the painting which is led to, but maybe that's just me! I'm sure you'll find your own likes, dislikes, and loves here as anyone would.
So I thought this book was well-worth the reading and if you don't find fresh inspiration and a renewed drive to go out there and do it after reading this, then it's all on you - right next to those paint splashes! I commend it as a worthy read. You can find the author's website at markmehaffeyfineart.com.