Ask the Expert…Todd Williams

Question: What do you see are the differences and purposes between a plein air painting and a finished studio painting from the original piece. I so often like the studies better because of the immediacy and reduction of detail. Yet, I know there is greatness in a studio piece as well.


Plein Air Painting vs. Studio Painting

For me each painting should have it’s own goal or vision to be achieved, whether it is plein-air or studio.

This starts with a strong vision and design, along with the chosen subject. (I’m thinking of writing a book, written specifically for new artists to learn how to chose the right subject to paint.)

"Lauritzen Victorian Garden “ oil, 9" X 12"
“Lauritzen Victorian Garden “ oil, 9″ X 12”, plein air

Your personal vision is the heart and foundation for every painting. Without a strong concept they can become another series of what I call, ‘formula paintings’. They have no direction and all look the same.

Out on location (plein air), an artist has but two or three hours to capture the light and shadow. In some ways, what we are doing artistically, is capturing that exact moment in time.  Often the beauty of spontaneous mistakes can sometimes be genius because we don’t overthink it.

"Mitchell Pass - Oregon Trial", oil 20" X 30”, Studio
“Mitchell Pass – Oregon Trial”, oil 20″ X 30”, Studio

On the flip side, a studio painting allows you the time to concentrate on the disciplines of creating a strong painting and even experiment with a different approach or new color palette.

It is said of Nicolai Fechin, that his paintings look spontaneous and quickly done. In actuality, they had been heavily labored over for hours and sometimes days, weeks and even months. Painting areas, scraping them down and then repainting them.

"Niobrara State Park", Oil. 9x12, Plein Air
“Niobrara State Park”, Oil. 9×12, plein air

Plein air painting has a lot of positives. It helps you learn how to see and study light. To see the relationship from life of values, edges and color temperature. The downside with limited time and a smaller canvas is they often lead to the artist producing paintings that are cliché or formula looking. They can sometimes lack distinction or individuality. It’s a catch 22 where there can be the spontaneity and happy mistakes that take place, but at the same time, limit the ability to take the paining beyond a certain desired look.

I truly believe an artist that is still growing and maturing needs to have both disciplines of painting from plein-air and studio. The studio allows you to dissect the different keys that go into creating a great painting. It also gives you extra time for more problem-solving to take place. The danger with studio painting is your piece may look over worked or labored. So, to have some of those happy plein-air mistakes also take place in your studio paintings is a must.

"Prairie Settlers - 1893", Oil, 24" X 30” - Studio
“Prairie Settlers – 1893″, Oil, 24” X 30” , studio

For me personally, my desire is to create a powerful design and subject that will evoke emotion in the viewer. Also, to take the painting to the next level of what I call ‘high art’; which would include the spirit of the paint within the surface texture that creates a work of art both exciting and interesting in it’s abstract passages within representational shapes.

My main goal as an artist, is to not just paint another pretty picture, but to create a “legacy” in every work of art…

Todd is currently working on a 5 year historical project, “Legacy of Nebraska” 2017, Collection and Exhibition. This is one of the key initiatives in celebrating Nebraska’s 150th Statehood Anniversary. The exhibition will open March of 2017.

Visit Todd’s website to learn more about his work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s