Monday, 10 September 2012

Painting in the Open Air

Painting in the open air or as the French say "en plein air" is an exhilarating experience.  It gives you a chance to really absorb the scene that is in front of you as you aim to capture an impression of your experience.  Plein Air painting can really get your adrenalin flowing as you contend with amongst other things, changing weather conditions, unexpected wind gusts and curious onlookers.
 A little bit of preparation can enhance your experience so here are a few tips which my painting friends have shared with me which just might make things more fun when you are out in the elements!

First of all what to paint on.  For plein air sketches like the one I have done today at Peterborough down on the Great Ocean Road, I have used canvas covered boards which I painted at home in a warm beige.  Painting the background first makes your canvas not so thirsty so it is easier to paint on and you can let some of this colour show through on your finished painting.  Using a warm tone also intensifies your colours a bit and I think makes your painting more inviting.

 Next I tape round my edges with masking tape.  This provides a nice border when you have finished and also makes it easier to tape the board to your easel if it is windy.  You also don't need to be tidy with your edges as you just peel off the tape when the painting is finished.

 Next I sketch out the outline on a tiny sketchbook.  If you can't do a thumbnail sketch of the scene you will have trouble when you come to paint it on the canvas.  If the scene doesn't work you may have to search for another one to paint.  I spend most of my time trying to find the right scene.  It sometimes helps to photograph it with a digital camera or use a viewfinder to compose the scene.

I then transfer my outline onto the canvas.  You will see that I have divided my canvas into thirds horizontally and vertically.  This not only helps you transfer your image but also it makes for a good composition if you include a point of interest at one of the intersecting points.

Here is my easel set up on location - I have taped my canvas board and my disposable palette to the easel with masking tape as it is a bit windy up here!

You are now ready to start painting.  I try to use a limited palette of colours usually a red, blue, yellow, white and a couple of darks like raw umber and burnt sienna.  I start by blocking in the major shapes and then add in more detail.

Keep working on the whole canvas quite quickly and democratically as you never know when you may have to pack up in a hurry!

And here's the finished sketch and what a beautiful time I had out in the fresh air surrounded by the beauty of Nature!

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