Colburn on Plein Air versus Studio Painting

waiting for the tide“Waiting for the Tide” by Robert Colburn, acrylic on panel

Susan Starr, owner of Bayview Gallery in Brunswick, had a recent discussion with long-time colleague, Maine painter, Robert Colburn, which prompted her to ask him to share his perspective on painting outdoors on site (en plein air) as opposed to working in his studio. Here is Colburn’s response in his own words.

“The main difference for me when I paint plein air vs in the studio is the speed required to capture the fleeting moments of being on location versus the luxury of having time to explore ideas about line, color and composition in the studio. With Waiting for the Tide, I was working against quickly moving shadows and rising water.”

“Initially I was attracted to the way the dinghies were resting on the flats and how their shadows were blending in with the shadow being cast by the railing above them. In the bright sun, this intermingling of shadows complimented the angularity of the boats, dock and float and helped to break up the composition in a nice way.”

Colburn continued, “”I had to move quickly though, before I was even half way done, the boats were floating and I had to rely on what I had already put down to guide me through the finishing touches. I enjoy plein air work very much because the evidence of the process – the sense of urgency and movement –  remains visible.  There is not a lot of time for fine tuning so the sense of “being there” is emphasized to a greater degree than in my studio paintings.”

forgotten“Forgotten,” by Robert Colburn, oil on panel

“With a painting like Forgotten, the approach was entirely different. I had it in my mind to create a very atmospheric and lyrical composition that highlighted points of interest but allowed for a certain movement through the piece to the soft, foggy background.”

“Developing the contrast between the solidity and geometry of the barn and boat with the fog and tree-line in the background was a slow process. The painting was more than half way done before I even decided to add the barn to the arrangement. And then I struggled with the proportions for a while in order to strike the right balance between background and foreground.”  “In the end, I was glad for the linear elements the barn gives to the arrangement because it allows the boat, oriented on a diagonal to serve as a literal and figurative bridge between the man-made and natural elements.”

“Experimenting with both kinds of painting is essential for me as an artist to develop all areas of my technique so that I have the memories of both experiences to call upon when trying to realize the next painting,” Colburn concluded.