Revisiting Plein Air Painting

“Plein air” means painting outdoors, on location, instead of in the studio. The artist is capturing the scene as well as the mood and atmosphere of the location.

It’s been years since I’ve done this, and – with cooler weather in Florida, right now – I’ve been getting outside with my portable easel.

The first day, the sky was overcast and I wasn’t prepared for the occasional gust of wind. So, at one point, my easel fell forward, landing on me – painting first – and then my paints landed upside-down on the ground.

After dusting off my supplies (and my dignity), I was able to complete an acrylic sketch that I truly liked. It’s on a 12″ x 12″ stretched canvas.

The following photo is a bit blurry, taken in low-light conditions, indoors. I’d intended to photograph it again, outdoors, but – as I left our apartment with canvas in hand – a neighbor’s mom raved about the painting. And, since it’s Christmas week, I gave her the painting as a gift.

Orlando plein air sketch, 21 Dec 2021

The next day, the skies were sunny and blue, and I was prepared for shifting winds… which, of course, didn’t happen. It was a lovely day and – while painting – I chatted with UPS delivery teams, neighbors, and visitors.

Here’s that completed painting, on my easel. It’s an 8″ x 10″ acrylic sketch on canvas board.

Plein air painting, Orlando, Florida, 22 Dec 2021

By the time I photographed it, it was dusk and the light (and shadows, and reflections) had changed, but the photo shows you the general landscape.

Note: That pond has ducks, tortoises, fish, the occasional water lily, and regular visits from an alligator that smiles and suns himself on the far shore. That’s why there’s a fence around the pond.

And, like the previous day’s painting, this one – still wet as I carried it home – was given to someone who admired it. (Again, since it’s the holiday season, I felt good about doing that.)

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Technical details for fellow artists:

[These are affiliate links to Amazon.com, and they’re products I’ve bought, still use, and like. Though I earn a small commission if you purchase anything through my links, your price is the same whether you use my link or not.]

  • The photo shows an acrylic sketch on 8″ x 10″ canvas board. The quality of these boards has been pretty good, and the price is excellent.: FIXSMITH Painting Canvas Panels.
  • My easel is actually a 7″ x 9″ pochade box (folds up to look like a cigar box) from Guerilla Painter. (I’m not sure that size is still available.) It’s a little small for my work, so my next one might be a little larger and more affordable, from Soho Urban Artist.
  • The pochade box is on a very sturdy tripod from Amazon.  If you have a limited budget, buying a lighter-weight tripod might be false economy. This one is heavy-ish (but not too heavy for the field) and has a hook on the bottom so you can hang a stabilizing weight.
  • I’m hanging my beverage holder from it, with a bottle of water inside, both for the added weight and so I can rinse my brushes with fresh water as needed.
  • My paints are on the right, in a plastic, compartmentalized box that used to hold picture hanging hooks, nails, etc.
  • The palette is actually grey palette paper, cut to size and taped down (with painting/masking tape) to one of the trays in the pochade box.

Also, I’m currently inspired by this book – probably not ideal for beginners, because it includes a lot of color theory – How to Paint Fast, Loose & Bold, by Patti Mollica. This (finally) got me to start creating actual value sketches (of just three values – light, medium, and dark), and consider greys more carefully, to bring added harmony to the painting.