ART & PLEIN AIR

Tips for Painting En Plein Air

Todd Saal

Todd Saal, Nashville, TN

January 29, 2018

I’m back to writing after quite a few months of silence. I needed to take a break to focus on one main priority. To just get outdoors and paint more days than not.

I’m extremely fortunate to have had this time to just allow myself to transition to become more of a plein air painter. The most valuable lesson I took away from this was to just accept that if the painting went well, then great. If it didn’t, that was great too. Either way, I was outdoors, painting and learning. All while I was trying to improve. That’s never a bad day.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions pertaining to painting outdoors. I thought I’d do a few posts to hopefully answer some of those questions. I’ve generalized them into 2 broad topics.

  1. I want to paint outdoors. Do you have any tips?
  2. I’ve started painting outdoors but I’m struggling with my setup. Can you help me with mine?

“While I create in various mediums, my demon of choice is watercolor”

As creators, we tend to spend an enormous amount of time in isolation working on our craft. At some point it’s beneficial to get out and collaborate with others. As a musician, you join bands and play with other musicians. You apply the work put in working by yourself in order to perform and play actual music. As an artist, the benefits are more subtle. It’s rare to have more than one person working on the same painting at the same time together. It happens but it isn’t really the norm. The benefits are more indirect working side by side with other artists.  But through osmosis you’ll be learning from each other by showing each other your work and discussing art.

After working alone all the time, who wouldn’t like the idea of getting out from the isolation and confines of the studio to get some fresh air, view nature, meet some people, and oh yeah – paint. I did too until the first day I attempted it. It became an all-day event dealing with when should I go out – early morning, late afternoon? What was the weather? Where and what was I going to paint? Thinking about these things made it seem more trouble than it was worth. I tell you it’s absolutely worth it. As an artist you owe it to yourself to get outdoors and observe the incredible things around you. I still paint in the studio. But my preference has now shifted to painting outdoors.

Todd Plein Air

While I create in various mediums, my demon of choice is watercolor. Painting outdoors in any medium can create its own set of challenges, but the techniques we use painting in the studio compared to outdoors is essentially the same. Yes, we have to adapt our technique due to the elements. The heat, rain, sun, wind, etc. All affect the timing of painting with watercolor. It’s the experiences you have each time you get out and paint that actually work their way into your art.

So you want to try your hand at plein air painting? The first question to ask yourself is what are you trying to achieve? Be realistic. Are you an enthusiast, a full time artist? How often are you looking to paint outside? Maybe you happened upon an art blog from a New York transplant now living in Nashville, TN and it made you curious to try it once and see what it’s like. What subjects are you looking to paint? Landscapes, cityscapes, both? All of these questions help determine what you really need to just get out and paint. Which is really the point isn’t it. A sketchbook or maybe a watercolor block with a travel palette is more than enough to get started. This is exactly what I used for a long time. It wasn’t until I started painting outdoors on a regular basis that I looked at more elaborate setups. So in the beginning just keep it simple so you can have fun.

That’s all for this week. Next week we’ll start discussing the things that have made it easier for me to get out and paint on a regular basis. Till next time, keep creating…

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Todd Saal
Todd Saal is an American artist and musician currently residing in Nashville TN.
© 2017 Todd Saal. All rights reserved.
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