The Trials of Painting Outdoors

Leave behind the comfort of your home art space—whether kitchen table, corner desk, or complete studio— and you’ll soon find an immediacy and sense of discovery that come from working directly from nature. Granted, you’ll be trading comfortable seating, fixed light, and a full suite of art supplies for less certain conditions. But you’ll be able to observe details, see colors, and experience your subjects firsthand in ways that will make your artwork more vibrant and alive.

At least, that’s the ideal. This week, however, painting outdoors brought significant trials: bright sun dried my paint too fast in the garden and the most annoying and insidious bugs attacked me one evening while painting irises. Was it worth it? Of course. But I’ll forever look at these irises and see myself swatting bugs in vain with a paint brush.

Tips and Techniques- Try different approaches to painting. Here, I’ve used my go-to ink sketch followed by watercolor for In the Garden and then painted directly with watercolor with no initial sketch for the irises. The bugs forced me to work quickly and let the paint run freely, which led to some nice mixing on the paper. You can see that my session with the irises was cut short. This could use a bit more definition, but I wanted leave it alone and perhaps start over, without the bugs.

En Plein Air

“Oh to love what is lovely and will not last…”
Helderledge- watering cans

En plein air sounds so much more savvy than painting outdoors. I suppose that’s why artists prefer the French expression, which literally translates “in the open air.” Regardless, working outside is my preferred way to draw and paint. Despite the challenges of sun or wind, changing light, occasional insects, and less than comfortable seating, I love the directness of capturing a scene live. I love the freshness of working on the spot. I love translating experience to paper.
Thacher Park Overlook- plein air

I thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of spending nearly an entire day yesterday painting outside. If you are inclined to paint from photographs instead of en plein air, I highly recommend you give it a try!