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Observations en Plein Air

Lyle Sopel -

Dear Collector Friend,

As a way of gathering inspiration and developing a deeper connection to the subjects I study, I find it useful to begin many of my works with the practice of sketching en plein air. As August approaches, I will be gathering my sketching materials in preparation for our exciting upcoming 2015 Wild Country Grizzly Bear Venture: In Search of the Bear Spirit Experience. This journey will take my son, Kurtis, and I to the wilds of Northern British Columbia, Canada, where we will observe grizzly bears first hand in their natural habitat. Watching grizzly bears up close, I will be capturing the essence of their character with my portable sketching materials and delighting in the experience of being in such near proximity to what has been a long favoured subject of mine.

What this experience is going to be like, is at this point a real mystery. I find my inspiration often unfolds in such an organic manner, especially when I am studying en plein air. I could easily be drawn into exploring the sea life that thrives abundantly in this region. I could be attracted to expressing the natural wild environment as seen from the perspective of the grizzly bear. I had described earlier that I am seeking the spirit of the bear – not just this magnificent creature in its physical form alone, but also its essence. I want to consider the whole arena of the bear’s West Coast homeland. Studying en plein air allows me to really get this flavour, to move beyond merely gathering knowledge about this animal’s habitat.

En plein air is a French term used to describe paintings or drawings that are executed outdoors in a natural setting. For me, the benefits of sketching en plein air are two fold: this practice allows me to gain a deeper understanding of my subject, and also allows me to situate myself within a long lineage of artists whose belief in plein air sketching and painting has contributed directly to the masterpieces that have shaped the course of art history as we know it.

John Constable, a highly ranked English painter of the 19th century, was an early advocate of working en plein air. Emphasizing that the truth of a subject exists in nature, Constable moved beyond the formulas of the academies and salons with the intent to depict nature from his direct experience.

During the same time that Constable was expanding his artistic vision, a small group of French artists in Barbizon, a village outside of Paris, were producing field sketches with the natural world as their focal point. This group of artists became known as the “realists”. Their departure from the formal requirements of the established art world, combined with new discoveries in the science of optics gave birth to the new and revolutionary style of painting known as Impressionism.

While I am well versed in the principles of design and engage deeply with the formal elements of my pieces, I find that it is direct immersion in nature that allows me to bring the full essence of my subjects to the forefront. It’s when I am able to be so close to my subjects that I can see the particular quality of their gaze, or sense the unique subtleties of their personality that I feel I have moved beyond formal concepts and preconceptions. Immersed in a world undisturbed by man and unbelievably free and wild is where the magic takes place that allows this to happen.


Art, Nature, and Beauty Always,


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