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SIU Plein Air Painting

SIU Plein Air Painting Course goes beyond the studio

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Plein Air painting Sam Ronketto

Sam Ronketto, a Southern Illinois University senior in art from Carbondale, completes a Plein Air Painting project on the SIU campus. The technique teaches environmental awareness while working outdoors.

The inner-session summer class at Southern Illinois University Carbondale was called “Landscape Painting,” but for Professor Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, the class was more about his students’ experiences.

“What we are trying to do is to teach student how to engage in their environment,” Abdul-Musawwir said.

Commonly referred to as Plein Air painting, the course exposed students the concept of producing entire finished works of art outdoors – outside of the confines of a classroom, lab or art studio.

Students in Abdul-Musawwir’s 400-level class already had foundational painting skills, he said. This course looked at how to apply those skills and “be in the moment.”

“This style of work speaks to the fact that we are in open space and also to things like sunlight, shadows and the relationships that take place among things,” he explained. “Our students learn to relax and look beyond the canvas. All they have to do is to respond to what they already know intellectually and what they see.”

Abdul-Musawwir said the class and approach teaches students to become aware of their surroundings.

“They learn to see the degree of forms – things like trees, leaves, shadows, shapes and more. Then, they have to engage in that environment. It is way different than being in a classroom with artificial light,” he said. “Not necessarily focus on what you see like leaves, but consider and really look at what happens as the leaves dance with the light and the color and how it all interacts.”

For graduate student Joshua Emery of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Plein Air painting requires a unique approach.

“Plein Air painting is where you are trying to be present with no preconceived notions and not trying to recreate what happened the other day,” Emery said. “It’s being present and reactive to the environment.”

For the class, student painters took easels, brushes and paint out into the common areas of the SIU campus and painted during four hour blocks.

“Usually the hottest part of the day,” Emery said.

Students completed as many works – ranging from small postcard-sized paintings to much larger projects – as they felt inspired.

“Some students were doing three or four paintings a week; some worked faster. I had one week where I did five paintings and the next week I did 25. It just depends on how you feel,” said Sam Ronketto, a senior from Carbondale.

Plein Air painting can be done with practically any medium, Abdul-Musawwir said. Some students used oil-based paints, others acrylics. What the students used to paint or what they painted was not the focus; instead, emphasis was placed on the where and the why of the painting.

“There really were no expectations and no due dates. All that mattered was that you go out there and paint,” Emery said.

Time also is not a factor, Abdul-Musawwir said.

“With Plein Air Painting, you become engulfed in the moment. Time becomes irrelevant. You are just living in the moment.

Much of Emery and Ronketto’s, along with that of their classmates is on display in the School of Art and Design’s Vergette Gallery on the second floor Allyn Hall.


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