Spring is here and getting outside is at the top of my list. Nothing compares to painting from life! Today I'm going to share my experience with you.
I’ve sketched and painted on location for many years. I delight in knowing the light, weather or other conditions can change at a moments notice. This creates a sense of urgency I don’t get in the studio. I also enjoy being immersed in what’s happening around me (hearing chatter from a nearby restaurant, smells in the air, feeling the temperature on my skin, interacting with fellow artists, students and onlookers). I’m aware not all painters share my passion for working outdoors. I wasn’t always comfortable either, but over time my skills improved and so did my comfort level. Now it’s my favorite way to work.
Over the years I’ve learned many lessons. When I arrive on location the first thing I do is walk around for 5 to 15 minutes. This is when I get a “sense” of place. Until I explore, I don’t know what options are available. When I find something that really excites me (such as the light, shadows, color, or a particular view) I’ve found my subject. Next I need to ask myself, how much time is available? It’s important to have realistic expectations. How much time does it take to do a quick sketch compared to a finished watercolor? How much time do I have before the light changes or I need to leave? If I have realistic expectations, I can very likely complete what I start. Otherwise, I will become frustrated and feel my skills are lacking, when in fact, I didn’t allow enough time.
It’s important to note the position of the sun, and how it will move and change the scene over a period of a couple of hours. If the subject will be in complete shadows shortly, it might not be a good choice. My favorite time of day to work on location is in the morning between 8:30am and 11:30am. The shadows are interesting and the
Be careful not to let the sun directly hit your paper. It’s alarming how many people allow this!
I belong to a group of painters called, Thursday’s En Plein Air. We meet once a week at locations in and around the Pasadena area, with further excursions in the summer. This group is important to me for many reasons. I enjoy the fellowship of the other painters. Too much time alone in a studio isn’t healthy. It’s enriching to see how each person approaches the location differently.
I’ve always had a painting partner and suggest others do the same. I do not encourage anyone towork alone en plein air, especially women. When painting we become oblivious to traffic, loose dogs, sprinklers, unscrupulous people... An extra set of eyes is always advised. And of course it’s more fun to share the experience. If you are alone I suggest you sit in a safe place such as a street café.
I consider my plein air watercolors complete as they are. Sometimes a piece will inspire me to explore the subject further. When this happens I’ll refer to the original plein air piece for color, reflective light and shadows. It’s almost impossible to achieve the same freshness of a piece painted on location so I will intentionally change the design enough to bring something new to it. I might use a location photo for additional information, if needed. In my studio I prefer using my larger Pike palette. I like the large flat surface for mixing washes. My brushes vary in size and materials (rounds and flats). I prefer Arches 140lbs. cold press. I work on loose sheets clipped to a board and stretch if necessary when finished.
Plein Air Supplies
I have a neck and shoulder problem so I keep my equipment light and portable as possible. I enjoy the freedom of being able to move to new sketching spots easily. I would rather create multiple smaller watercolor sketches that express the feeling of a place than come away with a larger half finished painting. I carry all my painting supplies in my Sketch-Bag called a Rigger Bag. Found at Harbor Freight Tools. A light weight chair called Roll-a-Chair. I rarely use an easel and never an umbrella.
Palette: I have a couple different palettes for working outside: Heritage Palette & Palette Box by Craig Young
Paint: My paints are Daniel Smith Watercolors unless noted differently. I may add or subtract colors.
Raw Sienna (Winsor Newton)
Permanent Yellow Deep
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Phthalo Blue GS
Manganese Blue Hue
Cobalt Teal Blue
Phthalo Green (BS)
Transparent Red Oxide or
Burnt Sienna (Winsor Newton)
Burnt Sienna (Winsor Newton)
Brushes: Rounds: assorted sizes 6 to14.
Flats: Da Vinci Series 5080 size 20mm, and ¼ inch flat stiff brush for lifting.
Watercolor Sketchbooks: I make my sketchbooks with Bockingford 140lbs watercolor paper and Canson pastel paper (tan, creme, and grey tones). Learn more here I also use the Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks (Beta series).
Pencils & Erasers: 2B or 4B pencil. Knead able or white eraser.
Miscellaneous Items: Clips, paper towels for clean up, water bottle and container, small spray bottle, sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and camera.