5 Tips That Fine-Tune My Outdoor Paintings

13 Jul 2011

Fallen Tree, Mississippi by Jeffrey Smith, 11 x 14, oil painting.
Fallen Tree, Mississippi by Jeffrey Smith, 11 x 14, oil painting.
My studio is filled with stuff to look at: still life objects, postcards of paintings that I love, and written notes of things to think about and remember as I'm working on a painting.

But what about when you leave the studio? What's most important when you're painting en plein air? What is it that you could do this time that's going to give you a better painting than you did last time?

My 5 Tips for Better Outdoor Painting

  1. Location, location, location. Choosing what to paint is just as important—if not more important—than how you paint it. Choose a scene that interests and inspires...not just what's close at hand or easy to get to.

  2. Compose it well. How you place that well-chosen subject on the canvas is critical. The feeling that a viewer gets or doesn't get when they look at your painting has a lot to do with how things are arranged.

  3. Draw it out.  Take the time to draw out your landscape painting on the canvas. This should be done simply but as accurately as possible.  Use a few lines, no more than 7 or 8, if possible. Starting with nothing or—even worse, starting with something sloppy on the canvas—just means that you will be spending your time later fixing what you just put down.

  4. Values rule. Once the drawing has been established and you are starting out on a painting, there is nothing more important than getting your values right. "How light is the shadow side of this shape next to the light side of this other shape?" Move from shape to shape and ask yourself this question.

  5. Explain yourself. There reaches a point in a plein air painting where you need to stop simply putting down paint and start describing the feeling of what you see in front of you. This is done through edges, brush strokes, color/temperature variations, and value shifts. Ask yourself, "How can I manipulate the paint to give the viewer a better idea of what I am experiencing?"

These are the top 5 things I try to remember when I'm creating a plein air painting.  What's on your list? Let me know in the comments below.



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