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5 Plein Air Painting Tips for the Beginner

When you are new to plein air painting (painting outdoors), you may have a few questions:

1. What is a good plein air painting easel?
My favourite easel is a French half easel. It fits most of my painting supplies and gives me a tray to place my palette on and a shelf for my painting supplies. However, it’s always good to go and see what other plein air painters use. Talk to them and ask them why they have chosen their easel and what they like or don’t like about it. Use the information to decide which easel is good for you before you buy it.

2. How many colours do I bring?
Limit yourself to only three colours: yellow, red and blue (+white). Do not get caught up with trying to match the exact colour of what you see. If it’s kind of right it’s good enough. Much more important than colour is the right tonal values. Focus on the light and dark of your subject.  Not having to focus on the exact colour is quite freeing.

3. How big shall I paint?
You only have approximately two hours to finish your painting, so paint small! Limit yourself to a 6″x8″ or 8″x10″ canvas or paper. After two hours the light changes and your shadows are starting to point into a different direction or change their length too significantly.

4. What do I paint, there is so much to see?
Focus only on a few objects. Don’t try to paint the whole scene, it’s overwhelming. Limit yourself to  a maximum of 10 shapes.

5. What if I’m disappointed with my work?
Get used to it. The outcome is not the main reason for plein air painting. It’s the process that’s important. Enjoy painting at the fresh air, in a special location, with other painters, etc. Hear the birds, the wind, the waves. Bring home memories, not masterpieces. One day your paintings are a success, the next day they are not. Sometimes they are a good basis or inspiration for a studio painting. It’s fun to analyse why your painting did or didn’t turn out well ad learn from it. Plein air painting is a much better teacher than painting from a photo.

As Eric Rhoads says: “There is a big world out there. Go paint it!”

Nicole Russell

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