I was going back over my blog posts and noticed how in nearly all cases I've taken my plein air efforts home and worked on them further to varying extents. So then are these not plein air paintings? There are the purists who say a plein air painting must be done entirely on location. Others view plein air primarily as studies to use in studio paintings.
In the November issue of Plein Air Magazine Eric Rhoads weighs in on this this debate and says: “We must get beyond these arbitrary restrictions and focus on the important facts: Plein air paintings are those that are started outdoors on location and reflect the sense of a scene as well as the colors of light, shadow, atmosphere, and form that cannot be seen in a photo. Whether it's a study or a landscape painting executed in the studio that started en plein air, what matters is the end result: quality works begun – and, in many cases, completed – on location.”
One of my guiding principles (that I picked up from the advice of various master painters) is to never knowingly leave a painting with mistakes in it. If you see a problem, fix it. Always striving to work up to, at least, your own judgment or standard of quality. This isn't always easy and often there's the debate of whether one should risk worsening a painting by trying to fix something. But for the developing painter (not burdened with needing to sell paintings) I think it's better to err on the side of fixing mistakes. So when I get a plein air painting home I don't hesitate to work on it further if I feel it needs it.
I can also the understand the purist's viewpoint. I had a particularly good painting day last summer where I got into “the zone” and had a very enjoyable painting experience. When I finished I felt like the painting was the trace of a great experience and I didn't want to change anything. Almost as if I would be disrespecting that experience if I touched up the painting. Of course, my more typical painting experience falls somewhat short of “great”, and I may not hold a resultant painting in such high regard.
These are my thoughts, and others may have different, and valid, ideas on some of these matters, but I do think Eric Rhoads is on the right track by emphasizing that what matters is adherence to the authentic spirit of plein air painting.