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Preparing to work outside 'en plein air'

Hi there,

Well what a busy week I've had this week both artistically and with my landscape students.I would like to concentrate on my teaching in this blog post today as so much came out of Fridays landscape sesssion.

Firstly lets just take the oportunity to talk about preparing to work outside for the coming spring and summer. As we discussed working outside is quite a different experience to working in the studio and it can be a little overwhelming at first, however with a few tips and a little courage to stick at it ,your patience will be rewarded with many years of relaxing intuitive expressive paintings. I find it such a joy to work outside, but I also realise its not for everyone and I know many artists that prefer to work in their studio, I favour a healthy mix of both.

So why bother working outside I hear you say, when we have easy access to good images now. The simple answer to this is, the joy that comes in being outside being in and of the landscape with all its sounds and smells,a sensual journey and it can definitely be a very meditative experience. On a more technical note our cameras although very useful dont catch all wavelengths of light so some colours are not represented on our images. I would be happy to chat to you about this in more detail should you be interested.

Now lets talk about painting outside and the things that you may need to consider before venturing out to make the experience more enjoyable.I think this comes down to,what you wear , what you take with you and coping with possible passers by.

I personally make sure I wear plenty of layers when I venture out and I usually have a hat with a peak and a pair of sunglasses optional, I find these prevent me from getting eye strain.For those of you that paint with me regularly you know that I am never without a trusty apron, this is not because I have a wish to look like Holly Hobby despite what others might think, but because I m a messy worker and aprons are great for carrying tools and rags and make these easily accessibleas you work.

The equipment you take with you is a personal thing and you will hoan this down with experience quickly. However I would suggest you have the following to get you started

View finder [This can be as simple as a hole made in a piece of cereal packet]


Sketch book

Camera [phone]

Choice of media [ie watercolour,acrylic,oils,pastels etc] and any water or solvents necessary

brushes and rags or paper


A support to work on ,now this can vary and is very personal. These might include just a pillow to sit on and a board or if you prefer to be more comfortable as you work you might consider

An easel or a purpose made seat bag.

Below are a few ideas for equipment that may make things a little easier

Just a few examples of equipment that may make things a little more comfortable.

A folding table or a mixture of all of these depending on how much you are prepared to carry around .

Now I have a wheel barrow that I take out to contain my 'en plein air' kit at times but if I'm travelling light I might only have a sturdy waterproof bag seat bag[pictured] and a selection of Suzie Early's beautiful wicker baskets that are on strong leather straps and can be slung across your body leaving your hands free,ideal for carrying paints and brushes.

Lastly then in this section I think its important to mention what most people feel a little uncomfortable about and thats the attention of passers by whilst they are endeavouring to create. BE BRAVE.In life there will always be someone better or worse than you, but you will be out there giving this a go and passers by in my experience are just interested in what you are doing and want to share in your enjoyment of what you are doing . The only thing I will say is keep creating whilst they are talking to you otherwise you will end up getting very little done.

I want to move on briefly now to techniques and tips from this weeks session for those students that couldnt make it and for those visitors here. This week my students were consolidating their skills of thumdnail sketching to plan new pieces of work, the aim being to gain a strong sense of where to start and how to progress with a new idea using the following process

Using a square or rectangle to work into

Decisions on how to break up initial space

Finding structure lines and creating a pathway

Tonal sketch or painting

New skills that were given attention this week were

Deciding on a colour scheme and ability to be able to mix colours for a piece of work.

This is easiest for those working in oil as the colours mixed stay wet and open after mixing, but for those working in watercolour and acrylic, a suggested colour test paper is a good idea with possible notes of how a particular colour was made, until you become more familiar with your colours and how they mix.

I find this a great process to follow, it may sound tedious, but in time it becomes a habit that can be relied on to produce a great confident outcome. If you find that you are too excited to spend time on this process and you just want to get on, then it can always be revisited if you hit a patch where you feel your painting is not working for some reason however this does tend to result in having to rework.

Lastly for this blogpost I just wanted to think about how we use greens in our landscapes. This came up and was addressed this week.I thought this was a useful aspect to mention with spring upon us and all those lovely greens that will appear.

For some reason my students in general don't tend to enjoy using or mixing greens,this is such a shame and I feel maybe it needs to have a little time spent on thinking of how we might be mixing green.

So over the Easter period get outside and look at all the different greens that are out there and explore your colours.I rarely use green straight from a tube,I mix it using many different yellows,blues and reds.

Reds, what is she talking about I hear you say. Have an experiment with your colours and try small amounts of reds in with your greens .Red is opposite to green on the colourwheel and neutralizes green to a shadow shade,give it a go remember add it conservatively.

Enjoy your painting and drawing this week and if you would like to join me on fridays landscape course then do get in touch with me or you can leave a message or book here with Cheltenham Fine Art.

Will post again on Tuesday.


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