Planning to paint en plein air? Here are a few tips for getting organized….
October 11, 2017
Painting En Plein Air – Sandspit Reserve
This week I met some of my students for a plein air painting session, in Sandspit Reserve, Waiuku.
A fair bit of planning had gone into the day, particularly choosing the location. We would liked to have planned the weather to, and as it was, our first session was cancelled due to wind and rain. However, the following week we had almost 2 hours of dazzling light, amazing clouds, nice temperatures, and beautiful reflections on the wet sand. As mid day approached the wind picked up and the rain moved in, but I think by then we had all produced a fair bit of work, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Things to consider when planning an out door painting session with a group:
Plenty of safe parking. There are some amazing views on the sides of busy roads, but its generally not practical to park, or safe to stand there!
Shelter. Not just shelter from any rain that moves in, but shade. On a bright sunny day the white of the paper is dazzling, and impossible to work on.
Amenities – such as water, loo’s and coffee! Cell phone reception can be handy too, for co-ordinating a big group of painters.
It is very easy to waste a lot of time driving around looking for the perfect view. From my experience, its better to identify a practical location, head there, and work with whatever view you are faced with. When you arrive, and look around with ‘painters’ eyes, it can be surprising what you see that you can turn into a painting. Once one painting is finished, it’s often just a matter or changing direction, working with the light, and getting started on another.
This particular location had views in all directions. It became breezy, and the light changed rapidly. I chose to section a half sheet off into small partitions, as I wanted to work quickly and capture a range of scenes.
Depending on your style, it may be a good idea to work fairly small, and aim for a couple of quick pieces. This can free you up to work quickly to try and capture the scene rather than worry about producing one careful masterpiece. I usually find my plein air work has an energy to it that I would never manage in the studio.
If you are new to plein air painting, it takes a bit of planning to work out what equipment to bring. It’s important to be comfortable, and organized.
Equipment and Set up:
An easel or a light folding table: something to support your work. If choosing an easel, ensure it is for use with watercolours, and the angle can be adjusted so that the paper is at an appropriate incline. Easels for oil/acrylic work may be configured to be upright and of little or no use. It may be that you begin by choosing locations with plenty of tables, and work there, while you decide what works best for you.
The set up will vary depending on whether you like to work standing, or sitting. If sitting, you may need a folding chair or artists stool, and you may be happy to work with your paper on your knee or on the ground.
Paints – take a small selection of the colours you mainly use. Often pan paints are great for outdoor use, otherwise a selection of tubes, with a pallet with a lid. There is a huge variety of travelling paint pan sets available.
A support for your paper, a pad, or a pad of paper in a ‘block’ where the edges are gummed to keep the paper flat. Once the painting is complete that piece of paper is removed from the block, by inserting a blunt knife or ruler into a gap in the gum left for that purpose.
Water and a container. There are collapsible containers available.
Other items that you often use, such as a sponge, spray bottle, pencils, tissues, and any comfort items such as a cap or visor.
Here are a few shots from the day, with all sorts of different set ups.....
Sandy offers Paula some advice.....in order to postpone getting on with her own work.... ( ;
Once you’ve been out and about a couple of times you will have a good idea of what your plein air kit needs to contain and the best way to carry it all, especially if you want to get off the beaten track.
I find it takes a bit of planning and determination to get out and paint, but there is something about it that just doesn’t compare to painting in the studio. Well worth the effort and a lot of fun!
Here are a few more shots from other plein air painting outings...
A coconut plantation in New Caledonia....probably some of the most comfortable conditions I have ever painted in, lovely.
A trip to Flock Hill Station, in the South Island, arranged by Watercolour New Zealand. Unseasonably cold (freezing!!), lots of sandflies that couldn't care less about our investment in insect repellant, but gorgeous atmospheric scenes that watercolour is so fabulous at capturing.
Fellow artist Amanda and I ducked into this shed in Cass to get out of the rain, and painted there for an hour or 2. A couple out walking their dogs pointed out their house, with the smoking chimney, and invited us to pop in, warm up by the fire, and make a cup of tea, while they headed up the mountain for an hour or so!
Back to the North Island, and a couple of pieces done when out of Auckland delivering work to an exhibition.
Painting as part of the annual "Artists in Eden" event, a collection of artists who paint in the Essex Reserve, some at every event for the last 30 years.
I think the Manukau Harbour has featured in more of my paintings than any other part of Auckland, I love it.
Finally, a huge thank you to everyone I have been out painting with. Every occasion has been hugely enjoyable, always with far too much laughing to keep our location secret, and more memorable than any day spent alone in the studio.
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