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Some advice on plein air painting please.

Hi all I havent been on the site for quite sometime now. My five oil paints recommended by Mark arrived today. Im not as yet ready to adhere to the strict rules of DMP as I want to get a feel for oil painting and to be free and loose to start with. There for I havent bought all the mediums required to mix up the paint. Im happy for now to learn to mix the colours using only the five recommended without worrying about the recipes for the slow dry. Once I get the itch of wanting to put paint on canvas and work freely im sure I will then put my time and effort into following all the steps required .

I will probably use Marks method when I do my first portrait , but for now I have a huge urge to get outside and do some plein air painting. This is something I have never done before as ive only ever worked from photos and my imagination. Im very excited about this and plan on spending the summer learning to paint outside ( weather permitting ) .

I have watched a few youtube vids and read a lot of blogs and have decided the only medium ill use is pure gum turps. The help and advice I need is has anyone experience in plein air painting ?
I am aware that ill have a very limited time to work outside before light and shadows change and so im wondering if I wanted to bring my painting home how long will I have to work on it while it is still wet ort do I need to let it dry before I can start again ? also if I added linseed oil to my paints will that give me enough time to be able to come back to it a couple days later and carry on wet on wet ?

There were many other questions I had but as I type they have escaped me . Thanks in advance and if Im not being very clear in my statement of intent then please feel free to tell me where I need to be clearer in order for good advice .



  • Sorry I ment to say once I get rid of the itch to just paint then im sure ill have more patients to follow the steps
  • Keith, you can paint wet into wet as long as your paints are tacky when you touch them. If you are wanting to blend your new paint into your previously painted colors they need to be more than tacky and you need to use your linseed oil or other painting medium. Use terp only if you want thinner paint than comes straight from your tube. The thicker your paint the longer it takes to dry, so if you want to do wet into wet from plein aire to inside and have brush strokes show, use the paint straight from the tube, no terp. If you don't want brush strokes, use the terp. If the paint goes dry, feels dry to the touch, looks matte on the canvas, give it a very light coat of painting medium - every company sells a painting medium- this "oils in" the paint and you just start painting again right away. Linseed oil, walnut oil, etc. will usually keep paint wetter longer than a painting medium will but also will cost less. If you go heavy with the oil you may wait a couple of weeks or longer for the paint to dry. Hope this helps.
  • Keith, my experience is 2-3 hours before light changes so much that your are done. It took time for me to learn to not chase the light meaning that I would start with a plan and then change it as the light changed. Does not work. Start with small limited paintings. Learning what to not paint is one of the hardest lessons I think. Block in values quickly and then go for more detail. You can always return another day and finish if the light is same. I use liquin when plien air painting because I want the paint to tack quickly so I can over paint but everyone develops their own process. Do some pics at the start and I like to thumb nail some quick value sketches to develop my plan. The old saying 'plan your work, work your plan'. I do not recall your location but if you are in an area where there is lots of green, (grass, trees, bushes), get a piece of red plastic and look through it. It will turn all the green to gray scale and you can then easily sketch your values quickly. Just some quick thoughts from my experience. Maybe AZ will kick in as he is a very accomplished outdoor landscape painter along with others on the forum. Good luck. :)>-
  • Thank you for your comments Grandma and Gfish , believe it or not ive gotten my notepad out and jotted down some of the very good points you have both made , I much appreciate it.
  • Keith, I have done a lot of plein air work. In fact until the last couple of years nearly every painting started as a plein air piece and photos taken standing or sitting where I was painting from so the perspective is the same. I would go home to the studio and use both of these (painting and photos) as the reference for a larger studio piece that is far more finished.

    I have a couple of wet painting carriers that can be adjusted to fit different sizes. Depending on how long I am out on location the wet paintings may or may not totally dry. If it is just a day and in some climates a couple of days the paint is still workable. The reason is the carriers are closed with no ventilation to speak of, so the paint dries very slowly with no mediums of any kind. If the painting does dry, you can still work it later by oiling out areas as Grandma mentioned.

    I would definitely not add linseed oil. You will find that you will have wet paint everywhere and on your hands and fingers even after the paintings are in the carrier. Wet paint can be a hassle to transport.

    Yes, the light is noticeably changing about every 15 minutes, but not always as noticeable at certain times of day, but the best times, it seems to change quicker. It doesn't of course, just seems that way. I choose rather simple scenes with large masses and I go for those first using very thin paint and a lot of thinner so it sets up fast. I use a sight comparison method and it really helps speed up decisions. Combine this with the use of the proportional divider I have the initial oil sketch and lay in done in a matter of minutes. What I am talking about is I set my canvas or panel at a level that the horizon in my painting will be determined by the actual horizon line. My main subject center of interest will be placed on the panel in the same place and the scale that I am seeing it from my painting position. Using the proportional dividers you find the scale easily and quickly. These things will give you more time to get to more detail or color studies. It also helps with value and color as you can compare because reality is right next to the painting.

    I wish I could remember where I saw it, but there is a video someplace on the internet of an excellent demo of this method. I'll take a look around an see if I can find it. A couple more tips: Use a limited palette and be well versed in how you get all the color mixtures you can get from those few colors.

    Have an umbrella with a black liner. A plain white one the changing "glow" of light will drive you crazy trying to mix color and see correctly. If you do not have an umbrella try and position yourself in the shade that won't be changing much in your painting time allotted. Make sure you painting and palette are getting the same light in the shade. Do not have one in sunlight and the other in shade. That never works.

    Have a good supply of paper towel and plastic grocery bags to put the used towels in. Have a weight that can attach to the center of your easels tripod and the umbrella stand. An unexpected gust of wind can ruin all your plans of painting. Also have a good bug repellant and use it. Basically, keep things as simple as possible, be prepared for the unexpected. What you want is to be able to concentrate on the painting, not the preparation and other things you will run into once in the field. Do all the prep work at home before you leave. I love being out there and I am missing it a lot. I can set up and be painting in no more than 10 minutes once I find what I want to paint, which can be easy or hard, depending on light direction, weather and terrain, but once you get the hang of it and found your way of setting up quickly, you can't help loving it.
  • AZ thank you very much for your detailed reply , your obvious love of outdoor painting is very evident . I cant explain why but I have a strong urge to spend as much time as I can to get out and paint from life and nature as apposed to sitting inside and working from photos.
    I have done a fair bit of research and even though to this point ive only worked in acrylics I believe oils and the outdoors will suit how I work. I live in Ireland so pests wont really be a problem , wind and rain certainly will ! Im self taught and pretty good at sketching , do you think id be ok just free handing what I wish to paint as ive never really used an aid ?
    Thank you for the advice about linseed oil , thats really good to know. Yes my plan is to pick a scene and paint for as long as I can then return home and continue the painting from photos that I take . I will make my own panels to start with . Im not a big fan of small paintings so will probably start with a 16x20 . Maybe this is a bit adventurous but Ill give it a go anyway !
    One thing that I read and watched a video about was to have your canvas in shade but your pallet in light so as to be able to see the colour your mixing but ill take your advice about the same light .
    Once again thank you very much for your reply
  • Here is a link to a marvelous site that AZ gave us awhile back. It has the instructions to build a pochade box that might help you. If you already have one for your plein aire painting I think you will still like this web site.
  • I dont have one Grandma , and just about to look at the link , thanks.
  • Keith, first let me say you sound like the type of person that will fall in love with painting this way. There is nothing like it. Sure you can freehand. Nearly everything I do is freehand. I mentioned the proportional dividers because they can help most people so much. I used some ordinary dividers for years to get my initial scale correct. Believe it or not it does make it much faster and more accurate than freehanding it. The reason is, if you make a mistake, let's say in getting the scale right, then basing everything else off of that will make everything else out of scale. It's like Richard Schmid and people like Matt Smith say. That first stoke or two are the most important, beause everything else will be based on and work off of those stroke, meaning the first object. Schmid also says the ideal is to get the right shape, size, value and color of your lightest light first and next your darkest dark with everything correct. After that it is almost like a puzzle that begins to fit together only one way. Now this can be done with a freehand drawing with a pencil or charcoal or a brush and very thinned out oil color. The sight comparison is very important to the freehand artist. It gives you a visual starting point and no just a guess. If your horizon is correct and your vertical through your center of interest are correct, it is more important information you do not have to guess at. It also helps with scale as well.

    Now, you said something near the end of your reply that I absolutely, positiviely, unquestionably disagree with and will make life in the field and mixing color a nightmare. I have no idea who told you that having your canvas in shade and your colors in sunlight is the right way to start out. NO! No Way No How! It's common sense when you think about it, you are mixing color in light and expect it to look right in a different light. How in the world can that work? The answer is, it doesn't. Just like in the studio, your light on the palette should be as close to the same as the light on the canvas. Have you ever noticed plein aire painters having their pochade box or other painting box and canvas holder at an angle? I have seen painters in the field with the palette part angles down at about 45 degrees and the easel part just pushed back at about 20 degrees. Any more and they can easily get perspective wrong, but at a slight angle and the palette even steeper it makes the whole set up at close to the same angle. This is for several reasons, two mainly Even light on the canvas and mixing surface, second with the palette angled down you are less likely to be dragging you shirt of coat sleeves through the paint.

    If you are building a paint kit take a look at what is available and make your version of it if you don't want to buy the finished product. I have several, and I can tell you that art work essentials, makes a high quality kit and is priced very reasonably. It comes with a very good tripod and mounts and you can add or subtract the options as you please. Also on this site you can see wet canvas carrying boxes and how they are adjustable for different sizes. Another big favorite of plein air painters is Open Box M. This is in almost every artist collection of painting kits they use. Any paint out with a loot of artists, nearly half will have these. They are a bit more expensive, but they are made with expensive furniture quality and last forever. Another even more simple solution is an aluminum tripod that has an attached mount for you canvas. It folds up and goes into a carrying bag about 2 and a half feet long and 6-8 inches in diameter. It will hold up to a 34 inch canvas. Now there are light weight palettes that attach and a fishing tackle box or a small tool box about the size of the fishing tackle box will work great. Find a rock and wrap it in bungee cords and attach in the middle of the tripod and it will take a hurricane to blow it over. (slight exaggeration, make that a tropical storm wind instead of a hurricane. You can also stake it down This kit can be put together for around $100 or less. This easel is made by several makers, and one of them is Winsor Newton there in the UK. I've attached a picture. It is called a Bristol Travel Easel. Not real fancy but works great. A lot of watercolor artists use this easel or one similar to this. The place a small drawing board where the canvas normally would go and start painting. The height is adjustable also. This is a great starter kit, with a small investment, probably less than materials would cost to make a wood one and this is just as serviceable for starting out.

    I hope this helps and happy painting. I really believe you are going to enjoy painting this way
  • Thanks once again AZ for your insightful and detailed reply, it means a lot . For now I will just use the easel I have for indoors , when I get some cash together id like to buy a French easel .
    The artist which I took the info about the light and shadow is a man called Warwick Fuller an Australian plein air artist whos DVD I found to be very helpful . But I will certainly take your advice on the subject . Can I just ask you one more thing ......would you recommend I add any other colours to my pallet before I start ? Im thinking yellow ocher would be of great help , but maybe im wrong .

  • You are very welcome, Keith, anytime. Two things here I want to address. When you are ready to buy a easel for plein air work, do yourself a big favor, don't buy a French easel. Remember the poem about how do I love thee, let me count the ways? Well what's wrong with a French easel, let me count the ways. The best one is a Julian, it is the original French easel. It is still exactly the same design as when first designed and built well over 100 years or more ago. It is roughly three times the weight empty than some of the modern one are full of supplies. By the time you have paints, brushes, thinner, towels, medium, thinner and medium cups you are looking at an easy 25 to 30 lb load Plus your canvases carried separately. Then you have a camera, drinking water, maybe an umbrella, we spoke about earlier and maybe a folding stool to sit and take a break or sit and paint. For about the same price you can get the easel, tripod, and canvas box for dry canvas's and wet paintings and weigh half of what the French easel weights. In plein air painting every ounce counts. The more weight you carry, means you get more tired and are not likely to paint as well. Sometimes the trek back is harder than the fresh start out to the painting site of your choice. If you want some referrals to websites of lighter equal cost easels that will fit in a normal back pack. A French easel will not fit in a regular backpack.. The next thing of equal importance is the legs of French easels. They are spindley (a technical term:D) and break rather easily in the field. I cannot tell you how many I have seen break out in the field, including one I had that a sudden gust of wind blew over and it broke one of the legs.

    Now you asked about other colors. If you are going to be doing landscapes, yellow ochre is a good convenience color. The key word is convenience color. I would not bother with it because with a lemon yellow or yellow light (I would prefer the Lemon in this one case) some Alizarin Crimson and a touch of Ultramarine Blue and white. and there is yellow ochre. It is possible to mix very easily. Again, like the easel, weight counts. I rarely take more than 4 colors plus white. For landscape work, if pushed for a substitution it would be Cobalt Blue, instead of Ultramarine Blue. Cobalt is much more atmospheric as it does not have the red in it that Ultramarine has. It and a touch of yellow in some cases plus white is a good sky color. It also makes wonderful grays with burnt umber. This makes good skies, rocks, sea (at times the ocean is gray), wood and a myriad of subjects.

    So I would use the palette Mark suggests with maybe the exchange of blues I just mentioned. Every color you will need can be mixed with this palette.
  • I have a french easel. In the back of my closet.
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