Plein Air Painting Blog

The Plein Air Blog celebrates the making of art in the great outdoors. From inspirations on painting light during different times of day to dealing with the practical matters that are an integral part of painting outside the studio, the Plein Air Blog is your faithful companion when it comes to tips and techniques, troubleshooting advice, informative resources, and surefire strategies for success. The plein air painting experience is about an artist’s love of nature and love of art, and the Plein Air blog is here to help you discover how to put the two together, so explore all the articles, step-by-steps, inspiration galleries, technique guides, and more that we have for you.

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Painting the Brightness of Sunlit Snow

Large snow storms give us opportunities to study the unique light, colors and shadows that only snow cover provides. Painting snow presents many challenges to the plein air painter–the least of which is the cold. The primary difficulty is the intense light reflected by the snow. This causes us to squint down, and in so…

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Don’t Let Your Plein-Air Skills Grow Cold

Don’t give up your plein air focus over the winter months. Try to paint from life indoors and keep sketching. (Melting Snow by Ben Fenske, 60 x 75, oil on canvas.) For some of us, winter weather is just a bit too unpredictable and chilly to spend much time outdoor painting. But if you’re like…

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The Cosmic Dance en Plein Air

Spring in the Hills II by John Hulsey, 5 x 7, oil painting. Whenever we get to feeling that there is nothing really new to be discovered in art or the world, we have to keep in mind that the “undiscovered country” often lies in our own backyards. Recently, scientists at the University of Duisburg-Essen…

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Ever Hear of the Purkinje Effect?

Have you ever noticed when you are plein air painting how the colors of objects look so radically different in the very low light just before dawn or twilight? Take a red rose, for instance. We know that the flower’s petals are bright red against the green of the leaves in daylight. But, take a…

Degas sketch

Power to the Pencil

With so much interest in plein air painting these days, it’s easy to overlook how important drawing skills can be to the landscape painting artist. Fundamentally, drawing is both a way of seeing and a way of knowing a subject. If you can draw it, then you own it. It is in your visual library…

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Dark Shadows

Why go to the trouble of painting from life when our cameras can take such great pictures? Digital cameras have gotten so good at taking properly exposed, beautiful photos that they can fool us into thinking that they are also accurate. To be sure, the technology packed into even an inexpensive camera is incredibly powerful,…

Sunny Morning on the Hudson River by Thomas Cole, 1827     Oil painting.

Higher Ground

We often talk about the myriad tasks of life that seem to buzz around us and can become distractions from our artistic focus. We call it “ground clutter”, a term borrowed from radar used to describe unimportant signals in the landscape. While it is important not to trip on or bump into ground clutter as…

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It’s Not Because I’m Lazy

You’re in a beautiful plein air painting location, you whip out your camera and take photograph after photograph – it’s essential to have lots of references for landscape painting, you know. Then you dig out your sketchbook, pencils, and paints and set about covering page after page of your sketchbook. The relentless pursuit of information.…

Monet's paintnig of Giverny

Playing Studio Detective with a Monet Painting

If there were any artist, past or present, into whose studio I could magically transport myself and observe him paint, it would be Claude Monet. I have always been intrigued by his painting style, especially his highly textured and complex surfaces. When I lived in New York, I spent many an hour at the Metropolitan…

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Hit the Right Values Every Time

Perhaps the toughest skill that the artist painting outside must learn is the ability to judge values accurately, and then mix them in paint. The reason that this skill requires so much practice to get right is because our eyes and brains are constantly adjusting to the light, kind of like a video camera does.…

Plein air painting lesson

Tricky Stuff–Limit Your Focus & Expand Your Painting Options

Demonstration: Exploring Composition Through a Limited Focus A “limited focus” isn’t limiting at all, but expands our options in composition The first compositional move any painter makes is to apply a limited focus. Whether it be a still life, an interior, a figure, or a landscape (which is the most all-inclusive of subjects), some portion…

Optimal Orientation of Subject and Artist in Plein Air

Don’t Set Yourself Up for Failure from the Start

Optimal Orientation of Subject and Artist in Plein Air Before the first daub of paint is squeezed out of the tube and brush is put to canvas, many plein air painters have already set themselves up for failure. How? By selecting a site that doesn’t translate well into painting. Just because a scene is beautiful…