Tips for New Plein Air Painters…

Shack Island, Nanaimo

Painting outdoors is probably the Best way to learn to paint. This is where you will learn about light and how it affects color. You will learn how to paint atmosphere and capture the mood very quickly. Each time you paint en plein air, you will learn what Not to do next time! You Will improve with each painting, it’s inevitable. There are no secrets to learning to paint beautifully. Only time put in. Actual painting. Lots of it.

I personally recommend painting outdoors on a cloudy day when you know it’s not going to rain. Check your local weather report to be sure. The reason for painting on a cloudy day is to buy you more painting time. If you were to start on a sunny day, you only have a small window of time, no more than 2 half to three hours before the light completely changes and you have to stop.

If you do paint on a sunny day, pick a scene where the interesting shadows and rim lighting becomes part of the subject matter. If you were to paint on a cloudy day, pick a scene; like the one I painted of the creek in my yard. Here the creek is the subject matter, not the light and shadows.

Do you see where I’m going with this? If you want light and shadows to feature, then paint those first and work the details last. I recommend returning to the same spot to complete if you weren’t able to capture it all on time. You don’t have to complete your painting in one sitting. There are no rules pertaining to this. It really depends how far you want to take it. If it’s a complete disaster, wipe it off and start again. Win some, Lose some. That’s life.

If you have little to no experience painting outdoors, PRACTICE on your own firstBEFORE, you decide to go out on a group Plein air excursion. Even better, take private one-on-one instruction with an experienced plein air Instructor. Now you will have some idea, and a fair chance at producing a decent painting.

Painting with a group of experienced plein air painters can be quite intimidating and very, very humbling, especially if your painting ends up looking like a dogs breakfast. Embarrassing to say the least. Practice. A lot.

Here are some tips on color mixing to get you started.

Happy painting!




Color mixing for Plein air painting…

Last Saturday I bundled up and packed up my custom made plein air easel and set up in my backyard next to the creek. It was on the cold side, I could only find one glove, so my fingers froze somewhat until the camera man gave me one of his huge gloves. I may have gotten it covered in paint… oops!

One thing I’ve learned from experience, is to premix my colors before heading out. Trying to mix as you go along is not advisable. Obviously there are some of you who paint this way and don’t bother premixing. Good for you.

For the rest of us, it really makes more sense to mix base colors and go from there. As you can see in the video demo, all my piles of premixed paint, made my life much easier. I could get right to the business of painting and this made things move along much faster. Because it was a cloudy day, I could have spent more time painting the scene with very little changes in the lights and shadows. If, however, it were a sunny day, my time would be restricted by the fast changing lights and shadows; yet another reason for premixing.

My Palette of colors are Titanium White, Raw umber, Burnt umber, Transparent red oxide, Burnt sienna, Transparent Olive green, Yellow ochre, Naples Yellow, Manganese Violet, Cadmium Yellow light, Cadmium orange, Cadmium red light and Ultramarine blue. On a rare occasion I will use Ivory black.

Now for the mixtures…

For my grays, I’ll mix two or three values of Raw Umber with white. Next, I’ll mix 3 values of greens using Transparent Olive Green and Cadmium Yellow light. To tone down those greens I’ll use either gray for distant greens or  variations of red – either Cadmium red, Burnt Sienna or Transparent red oxide or Manganese Violet for the middle and foreground greens. For Browns/Blacks, Transparent red oxide and ultramarine blue and another variation of browns with Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine blue. Transparent red oxide is transparent orangy brown and Burnt sienna is a more pinky brown. For whites, I’ll mix a pile of very pale blue using Ultramarine blue and Titanium White, a pile of light purple with Manganese violet and Titanium white, and a pile of light Yellow with yellow ochre and white, Burnt sienna with white and a pile of white with a dash of Transparent red oxide. I’ll then adjust all of these mixtures as needed on location.

One thing I will mention is that I will scout for the ideal spot to paint in advance. I will rarely just randomly show up at the scene. Once I’ve located the scene I wish to paint, I’ll make a mental note of the colors, so when it comes to mixing, it will influence the mixtures, obviously.  Like for example, the scene in the video above required lots of greens and browns and whites for the rushing water. Whereas a scene of the ocean would require a different set of colors.

On my palette, I will lay my darks on one side and lights on the other and on the edges I’ll squeeze piles of paint straight from the tube to adjust the mixtures of colors while painting. I’ll place the grays at the top next to Titanium white.

You’re probably wondering what I use the grays for. That is another subject I will cover in my next post. In fact, I’m creating a video series where I’ll talk my way through the painting explaining my process to you. I’ll also be covering some of my methods of establishing a composition and drawing the scene. I do on occasion create an Underpainting before I add color. I also sometimes tint my canvas, it really all depends on the scene.

I hope this sheds some light on the importance of being prepared in advance to make you Plein air painting experience a pleasant one.