How to Best Enjoy Landscape Painting Outdoors
Plein Air painting is an exhilarating experience for us creatives. Setting yourself up on-site a beautiful outdoor scene and painting in a variety of nature’s lighting conditions provides an unlimited resource for works of art. Whether you find inspiration along a seacoast, in a meadow or simply your backyard, below is a list of tips, supplies, and other accessory necessities to help your painting experience be the most comfortable and enjoyable—preparing you for unexpected situations.
• Picking a Site: Go wherever an inspiring scene and light effect calls you. Choose a place for either a morning or afternoon painting. It’s most comfortable having the sun somewhat behind you. Some of the more interesting light effects are during early morning or late afternoons when the shadows are longest. Every day can offer a different atmospheric effect, (cloudy, bright sun, etc.) Take note of the time and light condition that works best for your composition. It is not unusual to spend your first day sketching various value shapes that different times offer before making a commitment. Try not to spend more than 3-4 hours at a time painting per scene. You don’t want to be wasting time chasing shadow and light shapes! PLAY IT SAFE by painting with a friend(s). If you are painting alone, like many artistic lone wolves do, try to avoid too remote of an area in unfamiliar territory. Stay within eyeshot of your car and keep a cell phone handy. Place a traffic cone behind your parked car if you must paint on the side of a windy road. Paint at public places where there are other people around. Always let someone know where you will be.
• Hold Those Intrusive Onlookers and Space Invaders at Bay: Some of us enjoy an audience and appreciate the PR & marketing opportunity or to chat with good-natured folks. But when you are in “the zone” or working within a limited time block of light, too many questions and space invasions are unwelcoming. Jamie Wyeth avoided a crowd by painting incognito in a crate. Here’s an easier strategy to set up your boundaries without having to be the master of diplomacy: Lay out an over-size beach towel or large blanket for you and your gear to set up on. This instantly creates an invisible force field marking your territory—keeping onlookers outside the perimeter of your sacred work space and serves to deter conversation while your nose is at the grindstone.
ESSENTIAL SUPPLIES AND FARING THE ELEMENTS:
• French Easels are best as they include compartments to self contain most of your paints, brushes and canvas. The tripod style legs adjust to level your easel on uneven, sloped terrain and rocky coastline. An easel filled with supplies can be quite heavy so if you plan to trek a good distance from your car, you might want to consider purchasing the half box size easel as it will be significantly lighter than the full box size. I ran into a situation where an access road to a Maine coastline was closed to cars. I had to trek almost a mile to finish a painting that I started the previous year. Carpel tunnel, aches and exhaustion from schlepping heavy gear round trip can ruin your day! I now pack both easel sizes in my car in preparation for any unforeseen issues during long-distance painting travels.
• Pack Light and Tight. Landscape painting requires you to be your own pack mule so one round trip is the goal if you have to trek away from your car on foot: Easel in one hand, canvas type bag of supplies in the other. Backpacks are better! Take only what you need for the number of brushes and tubes of paint. Leave duplicate supplies in the car. Wet oil brushes on the return trip slide nicely in a role of paper towels. Transfer unused paint into a plastic container with seal so you can throw out the palette page and store the pad in your bag. A couple of Zip Lock baggies and 4 heavy duty paper clips are always handy. Leave that heavy turp can at the studio. Pour just enough into a small lidded jar. Travel Pak baby wipes work wonders for cleaning skin. Bag for trash.
• A Good Beach Chair Umbrella will attached easily to your easel and adjusts to block sun and glare. Keep your canvas shaded for your eye comfort while working.
• Weight to Stabilize your Easel. Wind is your enemy. Your canvas set up on an easel is as good as a schooner’s sail under the mildest of wind conditions. Anchor your easel by tying a your canvas bag of stuff to it or placing it on the back of the french easel shelf.
• Wear Brimmed Hats, Caps or Visors. Sunglasses are useless as they prevent you from seeing and mixing nature’s color.
• Know Your Tide Times so you don’t get stuck out on an island off that sand bar!
• Bug spray. Ticks lurk in tall grasses – year round!
• Water / Snacks. Stay hydrated. Remember you are out under the hot sun for hours.
• Palette Options: French easels come equipped with a wooden palette board. Use it as a shelf by clipping a paper palette pad on it for easier clean up and so the wind won’t flip the pages, which WILL happen even if loaded with paint. If you are located near your car and don’t mind 2 trips, an old wooden TV tray table works great giving you more space for mixing paint.
• Keep Your Car Free of Paint Stains: 1-2″ thick foam rubber mattress pads cut into 2’x2′ square tiles and laid down to line your car’s trunk, back seat, floor, or wagon area will prevent everything (including wet canvases and open wet palette pads) from shifting and sliding around while driving.