Art: In Paint and en Plein Air

Each spring, Mr. Brian Coyne’s students take their art studio outdoors. As the art of painting en plein air is one of the hardest things to master, this springtime venture is the fruit of much labor in the classroom.

Upper school art students begin by drawing “still life” objects. In the controlled setting of the classroom, the boys will hone their craft, drawing vases, wine glasses, bowls, and the like. The goal of this stage is two-fold: to practice drawing proportions and to capture the lights and shadows found on the objects.

Building off of their fluency in proportion and light, the boys then learn to draw in perspective. They start by mastering relative perspective, which is the relation between like objects that are depicted in a large or small size relative to their position in space. Next, the boys learn aerial–or atmospheric–perspective, which makes use of the sharpness or dullness of an object relative to how much it is obscured by the atmosphere. Finally, the boys learn to draw in linear perspective, utilizing parallel lines and vanishing points to depict geometric shapes, such as buildings or vehicles.

Once the boys have proven their proficiency in drawing, they are ready to enter the world of color. Drawing on their knowledge of color theory, they practice painting in both water color and acrylic; some even venture into oil painting. Just as with drawing, the boys start by painting “still life” objects. They end this unit by imitating some of the great artists of the tradition, trying their hand at the “Old Masters” Paintings of Western Europe.

With pencil and paint in their artistic toolboxes, the boys are ready to take their craft outdoors. As the clouds move and the sunlight changes, the boys experience first hand the difficulty of turning a time-bound world into a timeless painting. And as at times the rain pounds or the bugs attack, they learn that when an artist is sent into the world, he must bring with him more than base talent, for fortitude is necessary to weather the storms and turn the little perils of plain air into the pearls of a painting.