Saturday, September 7, 2013

9 Plein Air Painting Tips and A Packing Check List

Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days plein air painting down at Sugar Beach in Grayson State Park, in Florida. The painting conditions were perfect; a cool breeze, very few people, the shade of a pavilion and a red wing blackbird singing all day for company.

My Top 9 Plein Air Painting Tips
Here are few helpful hints to consider when choosing a location, a subject and progressing through the painting process.
Lavender Shadows on Sugar Beach, 9x6, on on oil primed linen
1. Scout out locations ahead of time if possible. Consider crowds, wind, angle of the sun, shade and the closest bathroom if you plan on painting for very long.

2. Set up in the shade to avoid the glare of the sun on the painting's surface. Think of where the sun is and where it will be in a couple of hours. Look for a spot out of the wind. 

3. Think about your physical comfort. Bring extra clothes, standing in the shade for a few hours can get chilly. Gardening gloves with the fingers cut out are great for keeping hands warm. (59 degrees standing still for hours in the shade is cold!) Hats, bug spray, sun screen, etc. (See below for a list of supplies to pack for your comfort)

Click Read More below for the rest of the tips and a packing check list.

4. First lay in the basic shapes of your composition, then capture the light and shadow quickly as that will change fast! 

Sugar Beach Fence, 9x12, oil on panel
5. Avoid chasing the light in your painting. Try to stick with you original impression even as the sun moves across the sky. Work on a single painting for no more than about two hours.

6. Look for contrast when choosing your composition, it’s easy to get bogged down in too much green. Look around 360 degrees, sometimes the most interesting view is right behind you. Remember the basic rules of composition. 

Sugar Beach Marsh, 9x12, oil on panel
7. Wear dark colors that won't reflect in the wet painting causing a glare.

Sugar Beach Dune, 9x6, oil on oil primed linen
8. Wear headphones to keep down the interruptions from passersby. (they don’t even have to be plugged in :) If spectators are too distracting for you, consider setting up with your back to a wall or shrubs. 

9. Take less stuff if you are going to be hiking to a site far away from your parked car.

Plein Air Painting- What to Take- Check List

Things to take for painting:
backpack to put everything in
French easel or pochade box
brush cleaner
canvases or panels, (lightly toned with a neutral gray or burnt umber.)
wet canvas carrier, (here's my post about a homemade carrier.)
palette knife
pencil or charcoal
small sketch book
paper towels
t-shirt rags
dark apron
plastic garbage bag for trash
camera with extra batteries
bull clips
carabiner spring snap clips, (to attach your camera bag/backpack to the easel to act as a weight in windy conditions.)
bungie cords
mirror, (to check your drawing)
blue painter tape

Things to take for your comfort:
bug spray
layers of light jackets/sweater
fingerless gloves
fold up stool, folding beach chair, or lawn chair if you like to sit
bottles of water and a snack or bag lunch
wear comfortable shoes
toilet paper or tissue
flip-flops to put on after a long day on your feet
ponytail holder (if you have long hair)
The palette tells an interesting story of color mixing. 

See Dan's posts about how he builds my shadow box frames. 
Here are all four paintings in the beautiful frames, custom made by my husband Dan, hanging in our bathroom. I can hear that red wing black bird singing now.

You might find these other plein air painting posts interesting.  


  1. Thank you! A beginner...

    1. My pleasure. Thanks for being a reader! Happy painting.

  2. Warming up is also essential. Your first few strokes of brush may not produce good results. Allow yourself some time to get into stride and after an hour or so you will feel confident as you slip into the right mood. Contemporary canvas art work also requires a professional to be discreet with his materials. Norman Brodeur & Norman J. Brodeur

  3. Thank you! You are very talented....and generous in sharing your experience.

    1. Thank you so much. I'm glad you are enjoying the blog.



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