Marcia Burtt is a plein air painter who has chosen to work in acrylic, a medium more often associated with studio painting, photographic realism and illustration than the immediacy of plein air.
Her approach, however, makes it seem a natural choice; with fresh, bright colors and a distinctly painterly feeling, she captures scenes of waterways and shorelines, lush gardens and rocky deserts, roads and towns.
Her website is somewhat confusingly arranged. The home page looks like thumbnails of images from her archive of older work, and if you wait a moment, it fades into an image of her and mention of her workshops. The apparent thumbnails, however, are actually a single image, and attempting to click on any individual one simply drops you on the real first page of the archive, where you are presented with an array of slightly larger actual thumbnail images.
From there, you must click on the thumbnails to open the larger versions; then you are apparently expected to use your browser’s “Back” button to return to the thumbnail page. There is no provision to step through them in sequence or return with a link. I found it easiest to Command-click (Mac), or right-click (Windows) and open several in new browser tabs, simply closing them when I’ve finished looking.
If you work your way back through her archives, however, you’ll be rewarded with a variety of subjects, compositional approaches and color palettes.
Acrylic shares with gouache the ability to quickly and easily make flat areas of color; in Burtt’s hands these become patches of color, similar in some ways to the approach of the Italian painters known as the Macchiaioli. In some paintings she uses acrylic more like gouache or oil, sometimes with rough textural chunks of paint, in others she works with delicate watercolor-like effects. Some of her smaller works have a quick pochade-like quality, others a more refined degree of finish.
As you look through the nicely extensive selection of her work she has made available on her site, you’ll see her experimenting with composition as well, moving the horizon up and down, focusing on skies, playfully pushing elements to the edges of the composition, searching for balance and harmony within variety.
All of her compositions are marked by a strong geometric underpinning and a sharp awareness of negative space. This is particularly evident in paintings that follow one of her favorite themes, bodies of water in which part of the scene is reflected. Here you can see her compositions create, in effect, two separate arrangements of the same shapes, for example with more or less sky, repeated and flipped, within an overall composition in which they must also form a whole.
She has explored the possibilities of her chosen medium in other ways, at times utilizing the preternaturally intense colors that acrylics permit, at other times working with a restrained palette.
Burtt is also a teacher, she conducts workshops and demonstrates her approach in an American Artist instructional DVD, Mastering Plein Air Acrylic Painting with Marcia Burtt for which there is a promo on YouTube. There is also a brief section on Painting with Acrylics on her website. There are also downloadable PDFs of articles in which she is featured from American Artist and Southwest Art on her bio page.
Her work, along with the work of other artists, can bee seen at the Marcia Burtt Gallery in Santa Barbara, CA.