Advantages & Disadvantages of Plein Air Painting

I have been doing plein air painting for over 20 years. Along the way I have discovered many advantages, and some disadvantages of this type of painting.

First, as long as I can remember, I have loved the outdoors. Plein air painting lets me combine my love of art and nature.

Plein air painting has also made me a better observer. I often see things that I would not have noticed if I had not stopped to paint. I observe light more carefully, looking into shadows and watching as clouds or passing time change the light. I also see colours more realistically. When I paint in my studio, I sometimes have to rely on photographs which average out colours and values.

I also feel like I am sharpening my skills when painting outdoors. I learn to focus on big shapes and a few values to improve composition. I learn to work quickly to capture a scene before the light, or a high tide changes a scene.

Another advantage of Plein air painting is the opportunities for travel. I have take plein air classes in Haliburton, New Brunswick, Florida and Italy.

For me, the biggest disadvantage is weather. Rain can really dampen your spirits and your work when it comes down in buckets. I was painting with a group one day when a sudden heavy rain sent us running for our cars. My oil paints were unaffected but one person working with water soluble paints had her work ruined. I don't like the cold but I have a friend who goes winter camping in order to paint outdoors.

A typical plein air oil painting may take me 2 to 3 hours. That's plenty of time for shadows to change or disappear if clouds roll in. When painting on seashores, you have to check the tides. I once had very wet feet trying to finish a painting as the tide rose. While painting on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, the 20 foot tides completely changed shorelines while I worked.

Insect bites and sunburn can also be a problem outdoors but bug spray, sun screen, a hat and a good plein air umbrella can solve these problems.

Despite the problems, painting outdoors can be very rewarding. Those times when you whip off a good painting in short order are pure pleasure. On the days when the painting just doesn't satisfy, at least you get fresh air and practice.

Follow this blog for more tips and suggestions for plein air painting in all media.