Plein Air Painting
by Rita Goldner
In the near future, I have two trips planned: one a mini family reunion in the cool mountains, and one with my kids and grandkids at a lake. Both times, I’ll bring my little plein air set-up: a folding chair, sun umbrella, paints and brushes, a watercolor tablet, and a small folding easel. I’m anticipating feeding my other passion (besides writing and illustrating children’s books).
For me, nothing beats exploring nature, with either a two-hour painting or a quick pencil sketch in the middle of a hike. In my obsession, I coax other people to join me, especially those who say they have no ability. I fully intend to push a paintbrush into the hand of each grandchild old enough to know which is the fuzzy end.
I’ve painted outdoors a lot and taught a few beginner classes, so I’ve condensed the process into a few basic tips to make it quick and enjoyable. (One doesn’t want to spend more than two hours, because the shadows will have shifted.)
- First, make some decisions: Should your painting be taller or wider? What to include/omit? What is the most important part (the focal point)?
- Divide your canvas/paper into thirds lengthwise and widthwise, with a big tic-tac-toe. Pick one of the four intersections to make your focal point; this area will have the darkest darks and the lightest lights next to each other.
- Make three to four small (2-inch) thumbnail sketches, just pencil, no paint, to break up the space into interesting shapes. Have five to seven shapes, and they should fit together like puzzle pieces. See my example below of five shapes. Don’t think of a shape as a “thing,” but as a patch that’s different in value from the surrounding patches. (Value means light or dark.)
- Make the light/dark patches form a balanced abstract pattern, leading the eye around.
- Have a limited palette of three to four colors, and fill in your big shapes. Later you can break some of them down into smaller shapes, but keep them close in value. Have some hard edges and some soft blended edges.
- Vary brushstroke size and direction.
Most of the readers of these posts are already expressing themselves is a creative way, writing. So it’s not a big stretch of imagination to think you’ll have fun plein air painting, too. A passer-by once asked me if I got a better finished product painting outdoors or at home, and I said “Who cares? This is so much fun I won’t stop even if it turns out bad.”
Note: I belong to Arizona Plein Air Painters, which welcomes non-members and prospective members to their paint-outs. The upcoming paintouts are listed on their event page.
Rita Goldner is the author of the children’s eBooks Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, both titles in Jackson’s Adventure Series. Rita’s forthcoming book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy, will be released this summer. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.