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  • Writer's pictureJames Spencer

5 Tips For Beginner Plein Air Painters

Here are some tips that I’ve found useful when painting ‘en plein air’, I hope you can benefit from them too!

1. Wear black.

When painting outside it’s a good idea to wear black in order to prevent colours being reflected back onto your painting surface. If for example you wore a bright blue coat your canvas could be tinged with reflected blue light and this could affect your ability to accurately judge colour and values.

2. Work fast and efficiently.

Endeavour to paint quickly to capture the scene before the weather or light changes. It can be tempting to gaze out at the scene you’re painting and just admire the beauty of it, the only problem is that the light and the weather aren’t very generous with their time. Before you know it the sky has darkened and all the sunshine colours that you mixed a short while ago are now useless. Of course there’s only so much we can control when painting out of doors but working quickly and efficiently gives us the greatest chance of capturing the moment. Ideally try to keep plein air sessions under 2-3 hours. Any longer than this will force you to work from memory due to the movement of the sun and therefore changes in lighting conditions.

3. Bring minimal equipment.

Wherever possible try to reduce the amount of equipment that you take with you. There are multiple reasons for this but weight is the main issue. You may need to walk some distance before finding your painting spot and the amount of kit you are carrying can soon become an obstacle. Another reason for a minimal approach is that you get to know your tools and materials really well. You soon discover every mark that your brushes can make and every hue that your palette can produce.

4. Keep it simple.

Much like the approach to equipment, I recommend simplifying your painting style as much as possible when painting outside, at least in the initial stages. Try not to let yourself get bogged down in details at the start as this can lead to being overly cautious about making necessary adjustments. Try starting your piece with a rough drawing to provide a framework and then using big brushes the block in initial areas of colour. This will give you a solid foundation on which you’ll be able to add details later.

5.  Regularly view your painting from a distance.

Sometimes when we get really absorbed in our painting we forget to take a moment to view the piece from a distance. It is far easier to spot if something needs reworking from 6 to 10ft away. Think about how the picture would be viewed in a gallery setting.

Bonus Tip: Bring an extra layer.

Now this may seem a complete contradiction to #3 but I felt it was worth mentioning anyway. Even in summer (in Britain at least) the temperature can become quite cool. This isn’t usually an issue if you’re moving around but when standing for long periods the cold can really creep up on you. Therefore it’s worth bringing extra clothes as a backup. It’s no fun trying to paint when you can’t even feel your hands, trust me!

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