Plein Air Painting Techniques:
18 Tips for Outdoor Painting from Artist Daily

What is plein air painting?

En plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air”. It is used by artists to describe the art of outdoor painting, capturing landscapes and views in natural light. This kind of art has been a popular practice for centuries and requires specific skills and techniques. Artist Daily has selected the best tips from experienced plein air artists in these amazing free tutorials painting experts love. These techniques apply to both plein air oil painting and plein air watercolor. Download your copy today, discover the best approaches to the art form, along with expert advice on the tools and plein air easels you’ll want to bring along when painting outdoors.

See immediate results in your plein air paintings by applying these expert tips.

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Your comprehensive guide to painting outside

Donal W. Demers walks you through his take on plein air oil painting. He describes what he teaches in his workshops for plein air painters, helping you achieve successful outdoor painting through technical exercises. Andy Evansen describes his trip to China with a group of artists and demonstrates the pros and cons of plein air watercolor.

Free outdoor paintings tutorials!

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Part 1: Plein Air Oil Painting

Oil plein air painting: classic landscape scene

Demers shows how he approaches three different painting situations.

The first painting captures a classic landscape scene, including how to paint cluds. Demers explains how to start without any white on your palette and paint the midtones and shadows with transparent washes of color before drawing the details of the scene with the dark color and finally introducing white to establish highlights.

Plein air approach: waves crashing against the shoreline rocks

The second demonstration involves capturing waves crashing against the shoreline rocks. “There are many approaches to [the art], and two of the most common are concerned with either observation or interpretation,” Demers explains as he describes the best way to approach a subject that is constantly moving.

Plein air study of a sunset

Finally, Demers walks you through his plein air study of a sunset. He shares another approach to painting outside, in which the artist tries to capture the fleeting light in about 45 minutes.

Part 2: Watercolor techniques

Pros and cons of plein air watercolor

As all plein air painters know, the less one brings on location, the better. For this reason, Andy has a distinct advantage as a watercolorist. The equipment itself may not be that much more portable than that of oil painters, but when it comes time to clean up and pack up, there is a notable difference. Another advantage is that at the end of a piece, oil plein air artists are worried about transporting and handling wet plein air paintings, but his are quickly dry.

Of course there are disadvantages, including the fact that the watercolor surface needs to be fairly flat, catching a great deal of sun glare when there’s no umbrella or shade nearby.

Using a digital camera as a compositional tool for plein air paintings

Andy shares how he uses the viewfinder on his digital camera as a compositional tool for his plein air paintings. He takes a photo of the scene, both as an aid for on-site and to use in conjunction with his outdoor paintings if he creates a larger studio piece later. He then uses the thumbnail in the viewfinder to make his first few important compositional lines, such as the horizon and any large structure, sizing them accordingly. Establishing the perspective and relative sizes of objects in the scene this way saves time.

This Is Just the Beginning...

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In this free art tutorial, Artist Daily addresses the common questions that surface in outdoor painting discussions, involving drawing, color, value, and edges. In addition, Demers and Evansen share their personal tips on plein air painting equipment, including the right best easel, palettes, and brushes. All plein air artists will find their share of useful information, whether they are just starting or have been doing it for years, and whether they are interested in plein air oil painting, or plein air watercolor.

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