The pleasure of painting plein air

moss landing, by frankeber 2012    wilder ranch, by frankeber 2012   north harbor santa cruz, by frankeber 2012   at Davenport cliffs, by frankeber 2012

Just coming back from a fabulous painting trip in and around Santa Cruz, California. Brilliant weather, great company and excellent food…what more can one possibly ask for?
It is one of the unwritten rules of plein air painting that as soon as you have finished your drawing and the first washes, the weather will completely change! When I started the painting at Wilder Ranch, it was foggy and sort of dull but a great atmosphere nonetheless. Just as I was getting ready to paint the hills, the fog disappeared and it got sunny within five minutes…
There must be a lesson in this somewhere…It is a great self-test if you can actually retain the memory of what the place was like a little while ago. That’s why I always snap pictures before I start and really take it all in. Very important. Light conditions will always change, there’s nothing we can do. I prefer to finish a painting in one go, as oppose to coming back at the same time the next day. You never know what you’ll get tomorrow! That’s also one of the reasons I prefer to work smaller outside, mostly quarter sheets.
Watercolor is the perfect medium to work with outside. It dries quickly and you don’t have to lug around heavy stuff.
Don’t make the mistake of walking around for an hour, searching for the perfect subject matter and/ or painting spot. It will never come! It’s better to just paint something you spot and like, even though it might not be perfect.  With a bit of re arranging (mostly omitting) you might just walk home with a nice painting.  A lot of time it is the most inconspicuous scenes that make the best painting. Do not look for the most photogenic or spectacular scene! Quite often, what works as a photograph never does as a painting!

4 thoughts on “The pleasure of painting plein air

  1. Sherry Schmidt

    Frank, I love your paintings and tips! Since starting some plein air painting, I definitely walk around too much looking for the perfect spot!…just one of my problems. 🙂

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