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Plein Air Painting on a Freshly Primed Surface

14 Jun 2011

Wait until you are in front of your outdoor painting scene before deciding what to tone your surface.
Wait until you are in front of your outdoor painting scene
before deciding what to tone your surface.
I've found that how you prepare your canvas has a huge impact on the finished result of your plein-air painting.

Do you start your painting right on the blank, white canvas? Do you prefer to kill the white of the canvas by toning your panel a neutral, mid-tone value in advance? Do you come out into the field with your plein air board primed a bold color?

I have a simple way of preparing for an oil painting session that not only kills the white of the canvas, it can enhance your color and your end result.

Preparing to paint

The surface of the canvas or panel is brushed with a very thin wash of oil color. Next, a rag or paper towel is rubbed across the surface to even out the tone, and to remove any excess paint. That’s the process. You’re ready to paint.

Jeffrey Smith, oil on canvas, plein air painting
This time of the year I often tone my surface with red or
orange to make the green of the foliage and trees pop.
By working on a freshly toned panel, the under-painting mingles and mixes with the colors you place on top of it. The result is a painting with unity of color and some subtle color mixtures that may be difficult to replicate when just mixing on your pallet.

The color you choice to prime with will be subjective. This time of year, I tend to use a lot of red or orange to counterbalance all of the greens of spring and summer. The trick is to use a pigment that compliments your scene, and isn’t too overpowering. Because the process of toning is so simple, you can wait until you are en plein air before deciding what color to use.

How do you prepare your surface for a plein-air painting session? Let us know by sharing in the comments.

--Jeffrey


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Comments

livuska wrote
on 16 Jun 2011 8:02 AM

Thanks for the tip!  

Livia

crowdaddy wrote
on 10 Aug 2011 4:59 PM

I found that that was helpful also recently as I swirled the sky around a smoke stack from a freighter before a aplied color.  I swirled and built the surface up with gesso and a light color to get the feel of what I might want the painting to convey                     http://www.douglaschambers.org

Marlien wrote
on 13 Jun 2013 2:14 AM

i clean my brushes on my next canvas. herewith leaving a colorful mess that I leave on places to shine through on my final painting. When I have oil paint left on my pallet, I use a pallet knife to clean the pallet (before the weekends), building a colorful, textured effect on my canvas. i find this method gives me an interesting under painting, and I feel I used all the the paint I could. nothing goes to waste