Plein air painting is a wonderful way to paint that will add a richness and depth to your work. Even if the entire painting is not completed outdoors your senses will have been alerted, you will have a memory of the day and all of this will be subconsciously added into your painting. But why do so many artists not try it? Because there is a technique involved and it takes a little practice and planning to make it work.
1) PLAN YOUR PLEIN AIR LOCATION
Your time is valuable so don't waste the day. Do some preplanning about where you want to go, the time of day you want to capture, are they any road closures or sporting or community events that will get in the way.
2) THE PLEIN AIR NECCESSITIES
It is handy to have a supplies list already written out and pinned somewhere so that all you have to do is tick things off. Better still, pack your kit the night before so you can have a leisurely breakfast and an early start.Travel light - only pack what you need. Take a limited palette and small containers. A back pack on wheels is perfect for carting everything and still have free hands.
3) PLEIN AIR ESSENTIALS
These will vary depending on the medium you are working with but you will need a surface ( paper, board, canvas), medium ( paints, pastels, pencils, charcoal), a support ( easel, pochade box), water, solvents, palette, brushes, rags, for a wet medium or eraser, sharpener, fixative and hand wipes for a dry medium.
4) BE WEATHER AWARE
As Plein air painting is an outside exercise, you will need to check the weather conditions before you go. If it's going to be hot don't forget a wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, long sleeved and collared shirt, drinking water. If the weather is cool, expect it to be colder - it is amazing how the body seizes up when standing or sitting for hours on a chilly day. Pack a coat, layer up, fingerless gloves and warm shoes. If it's going to rain - maybe reconsider.
5) SAFETY FIRST
Consider the time of year and the environment you are in and any possible animal's that might be around. Pack mosquito repellant and bug spray, check there are no roaming livestock if you are in a field. Be snake alert. Clear the ground of obstacles and check for any pot holes. Take a small, basic first aid kit and any of the usual anti allergy medications you might need.
6) SLOW IT DOWN
Find a spot and absorb it. Don't rush into the painting. Why did you choose this spot? What inspired you? Use all you senses to take it in - listen to the environment, feel the sun or wind, look at it from different angles. Think about the colours, the tonal values, the mood you want to create. What will the focal point be.
Plein air painting can be overwhelming. Standing in front of soaring mountains, or a skyscraper tall Forrest or lakes that go on forever is totally confusing. Where do you start? How do you paint it? The trick is to crop it. Use a view finder, or scrunch your hand into a telescope or use the crop part of your phone. Find a little piece of the big picture and work with that. And this is where tip number 7 is so important.
This is Plein air painting and you will probably only be in this spot for one day at most so take lots of reference photos to jog your memory later. Do numerous, quick thumbnail sketches, colour swatches and write notes as a reminder of what you saw and how you felt.
8) GETTING THE JOB DONE
Match the colours in the scene with your paints or pastels. It helps to squint and hold the colour up to compare. Work quickly, blocking in shapes, adding more layers as you go. If you are planning to continue the painting in your studio treat this as a tonal or colour sketch, the gathering of information.
At the end of the day pack all your kit and any rubbish. But before you go take one last moment to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the beauty of the scene before you and imagine how it will be transferred onto your canvas or paper. With a clear plan and some simple preparation, Plein air painting will soon become one of your most enjoyed artistic pursuits with the most remarkable results.