Friday, April 5, 2019

Advice for a Beginning Plein Air Painter

On YouTube, Neat Studios asks: "What kind of advice would you give to a beginning plein-air painter?

1. Use just a few colors. 
If you're trying to paint for the first time, use just black and white at first to familiarize yourself with the properties of the medium. When you're ready for color, use three colors and white. (Lately I've been using ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, and cadmium red.) After you've explored the possibilities of that group for a while, try another small group of colors.

 2. Use an easel.
It will free up your non-painting hand and get the work close to your line of sight. It could be a really simple sketch easel (Facebook group "Sketch Easel Builders") on a tripod, or a commercial watercolor easel. This improves your accuracy and keeps you from having to hold the book in your off hand. By the way, my wife disagrees with me on this. She says don't use an easel at first because it attracts attention to you, which you probably don't want. Bring a chair or stool instead.

3. Pick a simple subject.
It could be something in the foreground, such as a rock, a bucket, a fire hydrant, or a snow pile. Try to paint it as accurately as you can in the time available. As you develop your skills more, you can try trickier effects like water reflections, atmospheric perspective, or live animals.

4. Don't let curious spectators rattle you.
Pick a spot that doesn't have too many people wandering by. If they do, welcome their curiosity, but shift the conversation topic to something about them. Keep in mind that they're probably not judging you, and if anything they admire you for what you're doing. Check out the previous posts on Curious Spectators: The Problem and Top Ten Ways to Deal with Curious Spectators.
What advice would you offer? Am I forgetting something?


David Webb said...

Good advice James. I have an easel with a tray attachment, that I made, which has slots for brushes, water pot and my watercolour palette. It's good for painting outdoors, but is also great for art club demo's as I have everything to hand.
Onlookers are a fact of life if you work outdoors. I'm fine with it. After all, what would I do if I saw an artist at an easel? But, over time, I've found that if I keep my answers informative but brief, people will be satisfied and go along their merry way.

D.K. Vosburgh said...

1. Always bring bug juice,
2. Spend a day binge-watching James's videos on YouTube... they're free and packed with useful information,
3. Don't spend a lot of money until you're sure it's something you're going to stick with. Tag sales and Craig's list are loaded with French easels that have been used once or twice.

Sheridan said...

A wide brimmed hat like the one you are wearing in the photo is good. A baseball cap is some help, but won't protect your neck and ears from sunburn. I ALWAYS carry a small Tupperware type container about 2 1/2" in diameter filled with clean water, and stored in a zip-lock bag, just in case the top gets pried off in the bag. You won't have to search for water if you have it with you.
I only carry 4 or 5 sheets off a roll of paper towels for cleaning brushes

I think the most important thing is to have everything you take clean and ready in a bag always. You'll be more likely to go and paint if nothing needs doing first. I often grab the bag when my wife & I are headed out the door for coffee somewhere. We'll sit outside a cafe, and she will read a book while I paint. The usual cleanup only involves clean and fresh water in the container, and cleaning the pallet.

A Colonel of Truth said...

On a sunny day, two hours, give or take, is all you have before light (and shadow) has completely changed. Start another painting. With practice comes accuracy (as to what is necessary) and speed. Remember, it’s plein air “painting” not photography.

Susan Krzywicki said...

Oh, such good advice. I think I will go out this weekend and give it a go!

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

"What advice would you offer? Am I forgetting something?"

James offered full advice.

I'd only offer this:
As more questions and issues arise after beginning upon said advice, SEARCH THIS WEBSITE'S INDEX & 4000 POSTS; also the comments, because several contributors bring considerable experience into the forum. Revisit often.

Gloria J Callahan Colored Pencil Paintings said...

I tell students who are so intimidated of working in public to set with your back to a wall (so no over looking at your sketching, and sketching first to break the ice in public helps. Additionally if you carry earphones in your pocket, sometimes people are ok with looking and not asking when they see you are into what you're doing. You can small and nod and not loose the light and it's less intimidating for first times.

Richard said...

Don't go out in mid day. Go out when there are shadows. Do a study before you start to paint -- like a value study or a composition study--on a support with a frame drawn on it.. Ask yourself first "What is the light effect". Is it sunny, overcast, etc. Where is the light coming from.

There are 4 value planes (read John Carlson( sky ,ground, slanted, and uprights.
There are 5 kinds of light: the light side, the shadow side, the midtone between them, the accent, and reflected light.

Paint "firsts", that is, if you don't like it, start another one. (Don't spend a lot of time trying to correct something that isn't working.)

Janet Oliver said...

This advice is so timely: I attempted to paint outdoors yesterday for the first time since art school. The whole time I was thinking "What would James Gurney do?"

Wendy Line said...

I love plein air painting! There have been many interesting responses from onlookers. Most are simply curious and often complementary. Some strange experiences were when a man snuck up behind me and yelled “boo” in my ear, I’ve had tourists push me out the way to get close up photos of my paintings and one women filmed my facial expressions for about 10 minutes. Why? 😆 Children are the most fun as they seem amazed by even a few brush strokes. The best advice I was given was to just get out and practice as often as you can.

Pyracantha said...

Don't forget insect repellant. And remember that harmful yellow-jackets are attracted to moisture, including your art water. These have stopped me from painting outdoors on many occasions.

nigel.holmes said...

As an amateur, if (like me) you're not that fast, anticipate where the sun is going to be when you finish drawing and start painting, so that it's where you want it when you commit to a the direction of the shadows. Also, although the light is less interesting around midday, it also changes more slowly than early morning and late afternoon.

Anthony Koeslag said...

For safety I often sit in coffee shops or restaurants, if I'm out in public I like to have some company and if we get surrounded by a group I stop painting and answer questions till they leave. It's too easy to get absorbed in your sketch and not notice someone is up to no good.

Alex said...

You have talked about your waterman phileas pen in the past. have you used any of the other waterman models? I don't think the phileas is in production anymore. Is there one that you recommend?

Penny Taylor said...

Expeditionary artist, Maria Corywell-Martin paints on glaciers, crawls to sneak up on polar bears & puts a shot of vodka in her water to lower the freezing temperature if the water so she can paint. Think maybe a splash of vodka in your water container would discourage your wasps?

Penny Taylor said...

Clip a small biker's mirror so they know you can see behind you