Get Ready for Plein Air Painting

Pochade box

Getting ready to paint outdoors.

Painting outdoors is an exhilarating fun activity. The reason for the exhilaration is due to the fact that you are on the spot, in front of the world, making or breaking a painting.  You can use any type of paints, pastels, and pencils to make a picture. Usually you will be painting whatever is in front of you, usually a landscape or city scene.  If you want to practice without an audience, you can find places outside of town, or even your backyard, if you have one.  

The main thing to consider before going on the adventure, is the materials you want to bring along. Seriously, think hard about this because you don’t want to bring your whole studio, nor do you want to leave anything out that is important. You need something to hold a support with, like a canvas, gesso board, or canvas panel.

Then you want a small limited palette of colors, yes you can find the same colors in pencils, if that is your medium of choice. For landscapes, you really don’t want to mix too much as it takes time. So, consider the time of season, what your subject will be and when you plan on doing it. Say, you are driving along and it is winter, but all you have are bright cheery colors, that’s probably not what you want. A well rounded palette will be in order, if you are the type of artist that is always ready to paint. The simple palette that requires mixing to the extreme is Quinacridone Red, Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalocyanine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Ivory Black and Titanium White for a bright palette. For a low key palette use Pyrrole Red Light, or Cadmium Light, Hansa Yellow Medium or Cadmium Yellow Light or Hansa Yellow Opaque, Cerulean Blue or Manganese Blue, Burnt Umber, Mars Black and Titanium White. If you do many landscapes, add Chromium Oxide Green. It is a beautiful olive green that works well for many landscapes, plus it is has proven itself as a light-fast pigment, meaning it’ll last years without fading.

For an all-around palette, it is best to go with the my signature colors. These colors are Titanium White,  Hansa Yellow Light, Bright Red, Phthalocyanine Blue, Phthalocyanine Green, Burnt Umber, Permanent Orange, Dioxazine Purple, and Ultramarine Blue.

Then you want something to carry your stuff with. A tackle box and a light easel will work. As for brushes, carry a three flats, a tiny round and a medium round, a medium filbert and a large filbert. Small, medium, large, respectively. Reconsider the brushes for each painting size. Start with large brushes and work to small brushes to complete the painting.

Other important things

Bring a rag, pencil, a small pocket-sized sketchbook to find your composition and water for you. For bugs, bring some bug repellent and eat some garlic bread before you go. Ticks and mosquitoes hate that.

For me personally, a nice French easel works best for holding any size painting and all materials.

Now finally, coming down to painting the actual subject. Think of the meat and potatoes, leave the garnishing until the end. Big subjects first, block in with a neutral color. Work from light to dark most of the time because it is always easier to go darker than it is to bring the lights back into the painting, seriously. And most of the pigments are translucent to transparent anyways, which means they are see-through.