Let me show you my best painting secret!
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Do you want to improve your painting quickly? You can with plein air painting. Even if you are unsure about plein air you will learn so much from this approach. To make your outdoor painting easier I am going to give you top painting tips. There is a fun video showing you around the Karoo area where I painted recently painted plein air.
Plus a link to my Free Plein Air Painting Guide. Let's dive in!
Plein Air Basics
First off you need to paint on something small like a panel or canvas no bigger than A4 size. More so if you are new to outdoor painting. A small painting gives you time to complete the painting before the light changes too much.
Next is an easel or painting box (pochade) that is convenient to transport. There are many options, but prices do vary a lot. You can make a pochade at home. See this option I made myself. Alternatively buy a small pochade box. It is worth the investment.
Take you usual paints and a few bigger brushes. There is no time for fiddly brushwork. You need to complete big shapes quickly. This means covering space with plenty of paint and a big brush.
It is important to prepare for the weather. You cannot paint if you are shivering from cold. Or boiling up and getting sunburn in the heat. Truth is the best times are early mornings or late afternoons. In winter these are cold times and in summer it is better than midday, but can still be warm. Common sense is required.
I suggest a hat and sunscreen for summer. A light windproof jacket for cool weather. Add what you need for the conditions. Water and snacks can make time outside pleasant too. Thirst is an issue no matter what, so I have water available no matter what.
Understand that your objectives are not to create museum pieces. The painting experience will encourage you to think quicker. You will make decisions and act on them, which is a critical development in your skills.
Use the paintings as references in addition to your photographs. You can rely on your outdoor assessment of color and value. At least you have taken a trial run and you can scale up the work in your studio. Most outdoor painters use their plein air works as references in the studio. Try it.
Quick Process to Follow
This is how I like to work outdoors. First I take a walk around and get a sense of the area. Do this at prime time for artists. This means early mornings and late afternoons. I have yet to see how harsh overhead light improves a landscape. It doesn't.
When you have selected your scene make thumbnail sketches. Little sketches about three centimeters by five centimeters. I like to use the notan approach in three values. Dark, light and a mid-gray. This approach settles the composition. It alerts me to problems and gets my mind thinking about the scene.
I do take photos for a record of the scene. These also make great memories to share. Take a few progress photos of your work. You will be surprised at what is revealed about your painting over time.
When the sketches are done I am ready to set up my painting panel. I prefer a small panel like the 10x12" size. I will then squeeze out my paints. I like a small palette of warm and cool primary colors. Plus titanium white, burnt sienna and yellow ochre.
A large bristle brush like a number 8 is perfect for the block in stage. Get the big dark shapes done first. Lock in the shadow shapes too. These change rapidly and it is best to record them now.
Then the lights followed by the middle value shapes. From this point on you are in the lap of the painting gods. Forge ahead looking for light and dark and warm and cool shapes.
If you can see a shape. Decide how warm the color is in relation to the next shape you have mastered color temperature. If you can also decide if the shape is lighter or darker in relation to the other shape you know what values are.
The rest is practice, practice, practice.
Painting can be messy. Have plenty of paper towels or tissue to clean your brush. I wipe my brush after every few strokes. This keeps color clean and vibrant. Have a packet to dispose of dirty paper towels.
Dispose of your artists spirits safely. I tend to use little spirits. All the spirits typically have evaporated or are used up by the end of the painting. If you use a lot of solvents try to use eco-friendly ones. Ask your paint stockist for suitable brands.
Check out my artist's guide to plein air painting. It is for free. If you have not tried plein air yet it is time. No matter your skill level. Please watch my video below for a little inspiration. Have fun and let me know about your outdoor painting adventures.
Get your Free Guide
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