En Plein Air is a French expression meaning “in the open air”.
Many artists prefer to paint in their studios where all their supplies are handy and they do not have to contend with inclement weather and bugs. But plein air painting is well worth the effort! The payoff in your advancement as an artist may be tenfold. It’s about the experience of being outdoors, in the open air. You learn to be organized and make good use of your painting time. It forces you to think about what you’re painting and teaches you about colors, hues and how light effects things.
With the summer weather upon us and endless paint-out opportunities available we asked expert Plein Air painter, Eli Cedrone, for tips and tricks to making the day exciting and successful.
What is your set-up like?
I use a 1/2 french easel – lighter than a full size. For quick oil sketches I’ll take my pochade box. It sets up quickly and allows me to have my paints and other material easily accessible. I have an umbrella but rarely use it since I try to find a spot under cover of a tree or awning. My supplies: paint, brushes, turpenoid, paper towels, small trash bag. Don’t forget sunscreen, wet wipes, bottled water and a snack. I always have business cards available, handouts for the event and even a couple of small paintings… you never know when you might make a sale!
This is a my box made by Alla Prima Pocade: http://www.allaprimapochade.com/
What’s the worst thing you ever forgot?
I once forgot my palette knife which made it nearly impossible to work since I use it both for mixing color and to clean my palette. On the other hand I’ve forgotten brushes but since I had my palette knife I was able to do a painting using only my knife! Clean up is a lot easier too.
How do you deal with ever changing light?
The first thing I do is check the direction of the sun to see if my subject will stay lit in a somewhat consistent manner. I try to set up in a shady spot so the sun doesn’t move onto my canvas or palette. It’s important to have both under the same light. You have about a 3 hour window when painting outdoors before the light will begin to change. I start by “locking-in” my shadow patterns before they begin to move. Also I look for the key of the light and mix my colors accordingly – then stay with that key even if the light starts to change.
What do you consider the biggest challenge to plein-air painting?
In terms of the task at hand, creating a convincing statement with paint, the biggest challenge is just plain seeing too much and knowing how to edit. Another is getting the relationships of value, color and temperature correct. One thing that takes the pressure off is if I think of plein air painting in terms of “information gathering” and that my painting is nothing more than a field study. Overcast days are better in terms of consistent light conditions. It can be maddening to paint on a day where the clouds are constantly moving and the sun is in and out. Another challenge unique to painting in the city can be the traffic and people blocking my view.
Clothing/ weather considerations?
Dress appropriate for the weather. The wind can be quite daunting so it’s important to anchor your easel and make sure things are secure. Insects can also pose an issue – I painted during May fly season in NH and was nearly eaten alive! Wear heavy socks and the warmest boots you can find in winter. Also gloves with fingers exposed work well and hand warmers are “handy”.
Things to consider…
Given the limited time when painting outdoors you may want to use a smaller canvas; 8×10, 11×14. You’re after the overall impression of the light and scene before you so a small study, done well will be more effective and useful than a large, painting full of unnecessary details and inappropriate color.
Interacting with the public while painting outdoors can be both a joy and an annoyance. Some listen to music through head phones so as to not to be disturbed. I enjoy sharing my experience with curious bystanders – especially during a paint-out. In order to make sure I have a successful, finished painting for an event, I’ll do a preliminary painting a day or so before. If the light conditions are the same I’ll paint the same scene or choose a different one. The point is, sometimes it’s good to have a finished painting to enter just in case you’re not on your game that day or the conditions are difficult.
On rainy days, consider painting an interior scene – I once went into a bar to use the restroom and once inside asked if I could set up in a corner. The manager was very accommodating and I had a great experience (and painting!).
Don’t be self-concious. The public is excited to see what you’re doing.
There is a lot of visual data. Don’t get overwhelmed. Connect with your chosen composition and stick with it.
Work with a paint set-up that works for you. This may take a few tries. Leaning to feel comfortable en plein air is a process.
Be clear about your intentions. Are you planning to finish a painting or create some loose sketches? Remember, time is limited.
You may find yourself focusing on the difficulties associated with plein air painting. Remind yourself how joyful it is to be out in the world looking, seeing and creating.
Remember the importance of en plein air to your creative life.
Be patient with yourself.
Stay connected with Eli Cedrone by visiting her website at http://www.elicedrone.com
Feel like venturing out on your own or with a friend? Check out this helpful reference page on where to go (and where to park!). Plein Air Places MA