When to Give It Another Go … and Another … and Another

If you tend to “finish” a plein air painting and move on to the next, you might be missing out on important learning opportunities.

“Haven” (watercolor) by Tim Oliver

Been There, Done That … Or Maybe Not?

By Tim Oliver

As primarily a plein air painter, I’ve developed a bad habit of always looking for the next painting, the next compelling composition, or the next interesting subject matter. Sometimes this happens even before I finish the piece I’m working on.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but for one, I tend to get bored. I easily accept the idea that I have arrived at an “understanding” of the scene and that it has nothing more to give. I couldn’t be more wrong! And then as most of us artists do, I tend to look at old paintings and think, “I ought to paint that again. I can do it better next time.” But I seldom go back. It’s “Been there, done that – on to the next one!”

Over the past 18 months or so, my plein air painting time has been limited by the duties of helping to care for aging parents. There just never seems to be enough time in the day to get out and paint. With my limited time, I’ve gone back and relooked, reevaluated, and repainted some of my old works. What an amazing time of personal, as well as artistic, growth and learning.

1. Original Scene
2. Plein Air Sketch
3. “Midday Downtime” (originally painted en plein air)
4. “Midday Downtime” (repainted in the studio)
Just think of the possibilities!

With different color choices and temperatures, I can drastically alter the “mood” of the piece. By changing the overall intensity of the chroma in the painting I can alter the time of day and manipulate the light and shadows. The season of the year, the atmospheric haze, the character of the sky, and the climactic conditions can all be altered and lead to intriguing results.

While truthful recording and a strong sense of place are very important in all of my work, I’m never above compositional manipulation to achieve emotional impact. Redoing a plein air painting allows you the opportunity to move a tree, lower a mountain, add figures, or remove an objectional element. All in order to “re-vision” the composition.

5. “Hanging Out in the Shade”
6. “Laid Up In the Shade”
7. “High Noon Hangout”

It’s all about exploration and learning. It’s about finding different and more impactful ways of telling the story. As we’ve heard so many times, we are storytellers and we hope to tell it with clarity, intrigue, drama, and emotion. If you haven’t relooked, reevaluated, and repainted some of your old pieces lately, I encourage you to give it a try. Be bold, be daring, be courageous.

There’s incredible value in taking a second (or third) look at your plein air painting!

Paint along with Tim Oliver, Alvaro Castagnet, Xi Guo, and other top watercolor artists from around the globe at the next Watercolor Live online event, January 22-24, 2025, with an optional Essential Techniques Day on January 21.


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