Painting in the Open Air

How to paint outdoors?

Have you ever wondered how artists paint outdoors? “En plein air” is a french term that means painting outdoors and going beyond the four walls of your studio. A painting that is created on location has more life, motion and atmosphere. When we refer to photographs for painting, it’s easy to get caught up in details and make the mistake of painting each and everything. However, a human eye is incapable of paying attention to every detail. We like to view things that are easy to process. Many people prefer to view simple line drawings over detailed ones. When we paint outdoors, we are able use this very human capability and pay attention to only what is important.

I often think of taking a trip and painting along the way, I would call it a paintcation. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a short weekend trip and I grabbed the opportunity to paint as much as I could. If you wish to paint outdoors, there are certain things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Focus on the process and not the end result

Humans have a natural tendency to expect. Painting in the open air is going to be tough and you may not be satisfied with your painting. You need to be okay with making many such bad paintings. It’s all about being in the moment and enjoying the process without worrying about the outcome. This is my first attempt (note that the sky became green.)

  1. Learn and go

After making many bad paintings, I realized that I needed some specific training for painting outdoors. So I took up some online courses on Urban Sketching which taught me how to see things in perspective. If you want to paint houses or buildings then I recommend you take a course on this. I took up one such 8-day online course by Kabir Pradhan. I also referred to Ashley Jackson’s book Painting In The Open Air: Atmospheric Landscapes In Watercolour. Although it is usually preferable to develop skills, you may simply enjoy yourself with your paintbrush!

  1. What to pack?

This is the most important step to keep in mind. Just remember to pack like a minimalist. Also, consider the location and your medium. For my first painting, I carried acrylic paints and canvas while trekking. It was a bad idea since acrylics dried much faster in open air and I also had to carry more. I personally would not recommend this medium. If you work with watercolours, then take cakes/pans and not tubes. You should also learn to make your own colours and carry less number of paints. Many artists only use primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and they make their own greens and browns. It is completely fine if you don’t want to carry any paints, you can simply work with technical pens or pencils.

Here’s what I packed for my trip:

If you are like me and drop things all the time then you should definitely get a no-spill paint pot. It really is a life saver. I used my drinking water for painting. It saves space. A spray bottle helps wet the watercolour cakes and also with loose washes. Though I carried a variety of brushes, I ended up just using the dagger brush. It's become one of my new favourites.

  1. How to find a spot?

I woke up early on the first morning and after having my coffee rush, I headed out to find this perfect spot and get to work. I took pictures of the things that inspired me. I found a lot of spots, but it was almost impossible to sit there and paint in the scorching heat. I felt lost. I was excited and motivated but it was just not working. I roamed with my bag full of art supplies but I didnt even touch my sketchbook because I hadn’t found the perfect spot.

Next day, I went out to paint and decided that I will paint a strand of grass if I don’t find anything. I walked and just sat on a bench. There was nothing special here, but I decided to paint what was in front of me since I really needed a place to just sit. I was immersed in nature, using all my senses to get a feel of the location. You can read the book I recommended to learn more about using your senses. And I realized, painting in the open air is not about finding the perfect aesthetic spot, but it is about finding beauty in the ordinary.

This is what I painted there:

This is a photograph of the spot:

  1. Click Photos

    You should click a photograph with your phone or camera. Of course, painting in open air is the best way to capture the atmosphere, but due to weather conditions, it can be difficult to complete the painting. You can always work on it later.

    It was tough for me to finish this painting since it was getting too hot, so I clicked a photo for my reference. The first image is an unfinished piece. After reaching home, I defined shadows and added details, as you can see in the second image. So, there is no pressure to finish the painting on location.

Painting outdoors is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives. It is therapeutic. Just go out and sketch a random object. Immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and get creative.

Happy Creating.

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