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.
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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?
I am a realist painter, working in oils, painting landscape and still life.