The first time I went plein air painting was in school when I was taking art classes for the Intermediate Exam. Our art class went to a nearby mountain to paint for the entire day, and I remember the trip not so much for the fantastic art I created - I didn't create any fantastic art actually - but for the heavy bag of art materials and food that I lumbered under.
Back then, a heavy bag was always the main staple of all my outdoor expeditions - my Ma had the notion that I would starve without sufficient food and so, on every day trip, she supplied enough for a month. And that is why, on this particular occasion, the art teacher Mr. M and I overexerted ourselves taking turns in hauling along the sheer weight. Finally another teacher Mr. Y, who was tall and strong, took over and we could devote the remainder of our energies to painting.
Plein air painting became de rigueur in art school, but, even without my Ma's food bag weighing me down now, it took me quite a while to get the hang of it. I struggled and struggled and all the time I was struggling in an entirely wrong direction. There's nothing more disheartening than setting out full of hope and coming back with a muddily messed-up sketchbook/paper/canvas. The trouble was I didn't really know how to see things - if I viewed a tree and a house, for example, I saw A tree and A house, I didn't see them in relation with one another. Neither did I have the slightest notion about building up a painting. It was all dash, splash and, Oh Damn, I've made a hash!!
A good friend told me to see in terms of colors - it's not a tree, he said, it's a patch of green in varying shades. About the same time I also came across a 'how to paint landscapes' book and it had a technique that has worked well for me. Paint the white base with yellow or brown or olive green or red or orange (actually any color, depending on light and required effect) and then build up the painting on that, so it comes out looking like a whole rather then different parts stuck together. Concentration is important and so is confidence. You start waving your brush or your palette knife timidly, and it's over already, you end up with a painting that looks like it is apologizing for taking up the paint. So, anyway, as the wise woman said, be bold (not brash) and practice and practice and practice and practice and then some more - and if you aren't careful, you'll end up in Carnegie Hall instead of in the Guggenheim....
I won't say I have completely got the hang of it even now; every trip is a new adventure and a new experiment. But there's less self-consciousness - I cured the self-consciousness to an extent by drawing every weekend at the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay; it's always full of tourists and visitors and many of them stop to see what you're doing and then... you get used to it - and less uncertainty, if you know what I mean.
It's not very often nowadays that I'm faced with situations like the one where the two fishermen left their boat and strolled over to see what I was doing and, comparing it with the view in front, told each other knowledgeably -
"It's what you call modern art."
"Yes, it's not supposed to look like what you see."