How I went from Studio to Plein Air painting - 6 steps that helped me prepare for the challenge of painting outdoors
For a studio painter, the thought of lugging all your gear outside and dealing with rapidly changing light and complex scenery can be a little daunting.
Although I was already reasonably competent at drawing and painting still lifes in the studio, when I first tried to paint outdoors many years ago, I was really unhappy with the results! I realised after those first few frustrating attempts, that I still had an awful lot to learn.
So I decided to break this new challenge down into smaller, more achievable steps.
1. I learned what I could from books and other sources about the effect of different light, atmospheric perspective and typical value schemes of outdoor paintings. I studied the composition of landscape painting.
2. I painted what I could see out of my window: rooftops, chimneys, clouds and trees. I kept painting still lifes, and improving my drawing accuracy.
3. I went outdoors with my sketch book and made pencil drawings of trees and other landscape elements. I also made colour sketches on my phone.
4. I used what I had learned so far from these studies to improve my studio landscapes, although I was still using photographs as my main reference.
5. I built a mental checklist and rough idea of the process which I would use to complete my first plein air oil painting. I did some mental rehearsing. I knew that the big challenge in plein air painting is speed - to catch the light before it changes, so it helped to have a good idea of what order to do things in.
6. I got together a simple outdoor painting kit and practiced setting it up indoors. If you have a garden maybe you could to try it out there. I made a checklist so I wouldn't forget anything important.
By this point I felt reasonably prepared, and the next step was to go out and learn on the job. For my first outing I chose a familiar spot that was neither too public nor disconcertingly quiet, and chose a simple subject on a sunny day.
This is one of the first plein air paintings I made after returning to it once I had worked on the steps above.
I still work on steps 1-5, because I want to keep learning and improving as much as I can.
I love the exhilarating feeling of creating work outdoors, and I still enjoy the calmer pace of studio work. I'm so happy that I can now do both, and I hope this post can help you if you are planning to get outdoors to paint.
Watch out for future posts where I will break down each step further and give more information on how I went about each stage.
You can sign up for updates using the form at the end of this post.
I’d love to know if you have any questions or comments - what are your experiences of plein air painting? How did you get started, or are you yet to take the plunge?
Marble Hill House
Oil on panel 5x7"
I've always loved paintings of buildings, and I especially love painting rooftops and chimneys - I really enjoy the way they catch the light.
I'm lucky enough to live just down the road from this beautiful English Heritage site. The house was built in the 18th Century for Henrietta Howard, who was the mistress of King George II. Its set in a beautiful park and is definitely worth a visit if you're ever in Twickenham.
Oil on panel 10x8"
Available from Newbloodart online gallery
I painted this in Marble Hill Park on a beautiful April evening. The golden light was shining right through the newly opening leaves of the Poplar trees and casting long shadows on the grass. I might make a larger studio painting based on this someday.
Oil painting on panel 5x7". Available from Newbloodart online gallery
If you're already following me on Instagram then you may have seen this painting there, which I painted back in March. I was fooled by looking out at the strong sunshine into thinking it would be warm, but there was a bitter easterly breeze which really froze my fingers by the end of it.
Last time I painted this subject in Orleans House Woods, was in January, and I was painting with the sun behind me. I opted to paint into the sun this time as I loved the light streaming through the green foliage on the ground.
Now - surely you can't paint spring without a fair amount of bright green, I actually went crazy and used a bit of pthalo green for this painting (for those of you who haven't used it it's a scarily highly pigmented green which can easily contaminate all your colours if you leave just a tiny bit on your brush!).
Painting trees is time consuming, and I ran out of time to complete this outdoors, so finished off the left hand trees at home from memory.
Oil painting on panel 5x7"
If you've been reading my blog already, you'll know that on the first of January I set myself the challenge of producing a painting every day this year. Since then I've produced a lot of small paintings, and although I've been updating my instagram account @rlpaintings, I haven't managed to keep up to blogging about them.
It was proving to be too time consuming to write a post for each painting, and also I'm not keen on putting up iphone snaps here. I prefer to take a good photo with my digital SLR and that takes a little more time than I've got on a daily basis.
So now i'm just going to be updating my blog and facebook with the best of the daily paintings, and also the larger works once completed.
The white ranunculus flowers were lovely to paint - such nice rounded forms. I definitely want to paint some again when I get the chance!
I am a realist painter, working in oils, painting landscape and still life.