During the hottest week of the summer, I attending the Dublin Plein Air Painting Festival for the first time. I love to draw and paint on location but I did this in my own time, by myself. I had been eager to join the Dublin festival a number of times but work commitments always got in my way. Alas the stars aligned and I was available to whip out my paints and enjoy the views. Bonus luck that it turned out to be the hottest week of the year.
In this post I will :
- Give an overview of the Dublin Plein Air Festival
- What I Packed
- My Process
- Show my sketch books from the week
- Tips for plein air artwork
The festival takes place over one week during the summer, for ’21 it was from the 19th – 25th July. To attend the event you must pre-register to book your place through the Dublin Plein Air website, the cost being €65. Seven days with seven locations around north county Dublin, including :
Each day you register at the information hub where you receive a goodie bag packed with lovely art material from a sponsor (if there is a sponsor for that day.) Times are pretty flexible but most artists arrive to set up between 9 – 10am. For each location you can freely move around the site and choose to focus on whatever aspect you like.
There is the option to book in for a workshop with some renowned artists, these are an additional fee. They book up fast, so if there is an artist or topic of interest I would advice to book in early. Personally I didnt sign up for any workshops, I like being able to explore and discover for myself.
At the end of the day, 5pm, artists are encouraged to exhibit the work they created that day and daily prizes are handed out.
Overall I found that the festival was very well organised, there was always someone manning the information hub if you had any questions. Every location had public toilets & near by food / cafe available. The artists themselves are always a friendly bunch so your made to feel very welcome.
Deciding what to bring & what media to use is always difficult. On Monday I started off with a lot of materials but had refined what I packed by Tuesday. When I am drawing on location, I do move about & I wouldn’t work on one painting for the full day. My pack list would reflect this & I would expect an artist working on one painting to have different requirements to me.
- Sketchbooks x 2 – A5 & A4 size, heavy paper suitable for painting
- Acryla Gouache x 7 – limited the number of tubes I brought to seven maximum. I knew that I could mix up any other colours if necessary.
- Pastle Pans x 3 – choosing the colours that could compliment the paints I had packed
- Prisma Colour Pencils x 7 – again complimenting the other colours packed
- Travel Paint Brushes x 3
- Pentel Brush Pen – always useful
- 3B Pencil x 2
- Unipin Fine Liner Pen 0.3
- Eraser & Pencil pearer
- Mixing palette
(*Links include IRISH suppliers of these products, I make a conscious choice not to shop from Amazon etc. & support local)
General Pack List
Included in this list is some general things that I had with me.
- A3 Drawing Board
- Pencil Case
- Tiny airtight lunchbox for water storage
- Drawing clips / Bull clips
- Folding chair
- Snacks & lunch!
Each day was a learning curve & very enjoyable, full disclosure – I did only attend for four days rather than seven
At the beginning of the week in Newbridge House, I did feel overwhelmed & excited. There is so much happening that I didnt know what to focus on. For me, drawing people is my natural comfort zone so I didnt want to fall into that trap. I dont overly enjoy foliage so decided to focus on this topic instead & see that would happen. I love to draw movement, so I was naturally taken in by the wild deer & spent a lot of time looking and drawing them.
Below is some work from Newbridge House, I used Pan pastels & colouring pencils for this work.
We were lucky that day two was at Balbriggan Harbour as it was a blistering hot day, so I did pack my swimsuit!
Below is some work that I created from Balbriggan. I moved away from using pan pastels to using paint. Firstly I work out the composition in a drawing, making series of thumbnails in my smaller sketch book. When I have found a composition that I am happy with I then do a colour rough. I mix a palette of perhaps five colours that suit the location, subject, location & atmosphere. Then I work out a small colour rough. If I am still fascinated by the subject at this point I might do a larger study on A4 size paper.
Each time I work on a rough or thumbnail, I keep glancing at the subject. I do find this important as plein air is about drawing from life & I didnt want to just “imagine” what I see.
Day 3 & Day 4
I was happy with how the studies from Balbriggan turned out so I decided to explore this further. I challenged myself to try and paint faster & keep them small. But then in Malahide I absolutely loved how this sketch of another artist turned out, I did decide to then create this on a larger scale.
STAY FOCUSED –
- Select one thing you want to work on per day, perhaps colour studies, movement, buildings or line work. Focus on this topic to stop you feeling overwhelmed & helping you to see true progress.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE –
- Being uncomfortable pushes us out of our safe zone, this will mean that our drawings won’t be over worked. It stops perfectionism & over thinking. We make marks out of instinct rather than conscious thought. Get used to feeling uncomfortable physically & be prepared for many strangers to want to see what you are doing. This can be when our best work comes out.
- Discipline yourself to limit your media & your colour palette. Less is more & it forces us to be experimental with what we have in front of us. The perfect time to try something new.
- This may not work for every artist, but I do like to set a time limit of how long I am going to work in a certain area, draw a certain object or work on a particular painting. For me its the classic case, if I have 2 hours, it will take me 2 hours but if I have half an hour, I can do it that quick & only “say” what’s needed in that time.
- Approach hungry artists with caution.
WORK FROM LIFE
- The beauty of plein air is exactly that, you are out in the open space with your subject right in front of you. I dont see the point in taking photos to work from when all you need is right in front of your eyes if you just look. This will make you more disciplined & will hone your skills in colour, observation, proportion & atmosphere. In this case, I feel that drawing from life brings more life to your artwork.
- Plan ahead of time what you need to pack. Rush packing will result in bringing every paint tube in your studio.
- Plein air days can be full on & exhausting. Feel free to leave early or take breaks if the magic simply isn’t coming out of your pencil.