Plein Air, Plein Air!!

Why am I painting this? Plein air, or painting outside on location is something I strive to do so I can eventually paint while backpacking.  In these first two attempts, I take notes to learn from.  It’s very different outdoors!

Day 1 Notes:


Easel: cheap Walmart portable easel that works great!! This is a link to a similar easel, but mine is $20.  I guess it’s not available online. The wind was really blowing (15-20mph). Use the Velcro strap to anchor it down! Works great.  Also, shift around the canvas panel while tightening it down so the wind doesn’t loosen it and blow it on the ground. It’s not fun picking grass out of your paint.

Bag: I use a disc golf bag to stow my paints, stay-wet pallet, water jar, acrylics and a few brushes. This is similar to the bag I use. It does a good job of keeping stuff organized and the strap helps when needing an anchor for the easel. Also, a travel sized spray bottle fits nicely in the water bottle spot.

Stay Wet Pallet: This is a great video on making a stay-wet pallet similar to what I use. It works great!! 

Fold-up Camping chair: I like to paint standing up so I can step back from the painting a lot, but the easel is kinda short.  Plus, after an hour or two it is nice to have the option to sit!

Preparation: I gessoed two 8×10″ canvas panels the night before and added some retarder fluid to water in the spray bottle.

Setting Up: It’s stinkin’ bright out in the sun! Set up so that your canvas is shaded. Take a pic of your view from your painting spot for accurate reference (if needed). Sitting down, keep the stay wet pallet in you lap. Water wash-can on you right side (if you’re right handed) for easy access. Paint bag at your feet anchoring the easel. 

Starting: MAKE A VIEWFINDER! Can’t tell you how helpful this is! There is so much scenery and this “flattens” the scene to see a good composition. Make initial quick sketch, spray the canvas down, and lay in the big colors quickly (sky grass).  Leave details out (background trees, foreground details).  It’s your “underpaint”. 

Highlight to painting: Work from background to foreground (sky, background trees, foreground grass/tree, fence posts). Squint a lot to see values relative to each other. The point now is to get the true colors down. The camera doesn’t always get a good representation of these. DO NOT SPRAY THE CANVAS AFTER THE UNDERPAINTING IS DONE! I tried and streaked my painting dissolving with the water spots. Wet the brush to apply a thin coat if needed. Leave the small details for back home. Wind and quick drying paint makes it hard to do outdoors.

Things to do next time: SUNBURN.  Ouch. Full brim hat, sunscreen, and if possible sit in a shaded spot.  I look like a lobster. 

Day 2 Notes:


Much better today!  I used the same routine as before, found shade and a full brim hat. I had limited time.  I did an underpaint, sky, background trees, grass, foreground tree, foreground limb and field bluebonnets (about 80% done). Added details like cows detailed flowers at home.

Reading Paul Strisik’s book really helped! I recommend it for anyone as a “must read”.

Now get outside and just do it.  There’s no better way to learn!


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