By Nicole Tinkham
Image from Flickr Creative Commons: Grand Canyon National Park
It’s officially springtime and with that comes warm weather and beautiful scenery. It’s the perfect time of year to take your painting outside for some fresh air, peace and quiet, great natural lighting, and increased productivity. If you’ve never tried plein air painting (a term used for taking your artwork to the great outdoors), you’d probably assume all of this is true. However, there’s a lot playing against you when moving from the studio to the real world that you may not realize. Luckily we’re here to give you some helpful tips for overcoming spectators, dealing with changing light, transporting your materials, and much more so you can actually enjoy a day away from the studio.
Why go plein air?
First of all, let’s talk about some of the benefits of plein air painting. A change of scenery brings fresh, new ideas that prevent an artist from going into a creative rut. The beauty of working outside is the variety. Even if you were to head out to the same spot every single day, your paintings would differ greatly. Plus there are endless areas to explore. Feel free to stick close to home at first in your own backyard and then venture out to parks, coffee shops, marinas, etc. as you become more comfortable. While we recommend plein air painting we also recognize the struggles that come along with it. Don’t become frustrated if you’re just beginning. The following 8 tips will prepare you for many of the difficulties so you can fully enjoy the experience.
1. Working outside is overwhelming
The first thing you must do is decide where outside you’d like to work. It can be somewhere simple like a park or flower garden. But even in one of these basic locations, we guarantee there will be a lot to look at which can be overwhelming. Remember that you’ll be painting the essence of the scene so you don’t have to capture every single thing you see. Do your best to choose a spot in the shade (or bring an umbrella) and out of the wind if at all possible. We recommend scoping out the area before lugging all your gear out for the day. Do this at least a day ahead of time so you have an idea of what you’ll be working with and the best color palette for the scene.
2. Strangers will bug you
When working in the open, strangers are more likely to make small talk, give their opinions, and ask you questions. They mean well but it can become frustrating when you’re in the zone and don’t want to talk. To avoid this issue, choose a location where there are few to no people. Also consider positioning yourself where strangers can’t sneak up behind you and look over your shoulder. If someone does happen to be a little too nosey, politely explain to them that you can’t talk at the moment. Hopefully they understand and back off a bit.
3. Changing light will totally throw off your shadows
Natural lighting is absolutely wonderful! Until it changes as the day goes on and all your shadows are out of whack. The best way to paint under the changing lights is to get the main shapes down first and then work on the details. If you’ll be working over a span of several days, make sure you’re out there at the same time each day.
4. You’ll feel rushed to get it all done in one day
Many artists prefer starting and finishing a painting outside but really, the choice is up to you. Ideally you’ll want to finish up outside but it’s not always possible. You may even decide to do a preliminary sketch outside then move it back into the studio for the rest of the day. Don’t rush yourself. Do whatever works best for you.
5. Setting up can be tricky
We recommend using a portable easel when out and about. They’re light, easy to carry, and simple to set up. Stop by our art department for further help on choosing the best one for your needs. If you choose against the easel route, you can always prop up the board you’re working on against just about anything.
6. Wet canvas can cause a huge dilemma
Before doing any sort of painting out there in the wild, make sure you have enough room in your car to lay the wet painting down flat. If working with oils, you may want to use a medium that speeds up the drying time. We recommend large plastic storage containers for transportation as long as you can find an appropriate size. There are many options out there but the most important thing is to have it all figured out before beginning an outdoor painting.
7. What you wear affects your painting
Want your hot pink sweater to match your painting? We didn’t think so! Wear neutral colors when painting outside so the sun doesn’t reflect a certain shade onto your canvas. This is something you probably never considered but as you can see, is quite important.
8. You’ll have to limit your supplies
You’ll want to pack only the essentials when making your trip outside. The less you have, the easier the travel is plus you’ll save time by limiting the amount of stuff you have to dig through to get what you need. This is going to be a hard decision but bring with you only a few brushes, picking a nice range that you can work with. Opt for smaller paint tubes on your adventure and make sure the caps are screwed on tightly. Also, don’t forget to bring a container to hold your solvent or water (we love the collapsible cups!). Don’t skimp on a travel bag. You want it to be durable with plenty of pockets to keep supplies organized. Trust us, you have more than you think and a bag with plenty of compartments will keep everything within reach. Other things to bring with you include sunscreen, a hat, insect repellent, water, and possibly a few snacks.
Are you a plein air artist or planning to become one? Now we want to hear from YOU! Comment below with a memorable experience or a helpful tip for beginners to add to this post. It’s true, there are many difficulties that come with creating art in public but doesn’t everything worth while take a little effort? All you really need to do is become familiar with the new environment. Take advantage of this beautiful spring weather and get out there and create!