Plein Air & Finishing In The Studio

When working from life, I’m painting the effect of light on my subject. Light moves fast and I must be quick to capture it. Most times I get it in one sitting; occasionally I’ll have to finish back in the studio. How do I prepare for this? After setting up my easel I always take a photo of the subject. This is a record of the light effect and a handy reference for later.

I recently painted an abandoned farmhouse. It was an overcast morning with steady light and I spent most of my time on the drawing, measuring angles and proportions. Once I was satisfied I could then start bringing the house to life. Shortly thereafter the sun came out and changed all the lighting conditions. Resigned to finishing in the studio I placed a few notes of general colour in the foreground and packed up.

Once home I left the painting to sit for half a day. That way I could return to it later with fresh eyes.

In the example of the farmhouse painting, I reworked the sky, realising I needed to lighten the value. From my memory of the morning, and based on what I saw when squinting down, I softened edges along the roofline. I finished the foliage on the left, using the photo reference. I tidied the hill side foreground, adding a subtle lead-in up to the house itself. Having the photo helped to jog my memory when it came to subtle details. Lucky for me, most of the information was already in the painting and I just needed to refine it.

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