Plein Air Painting

Plein Air Explained

Plein Air painting is a French term that means “painting outdoors.”  Outdoor paintings are full of light but as the light is ever changing the artist must paint quickly in order to not only capture the light but also establish relationships of colour, shapes and tone values. Because the artist works quickly many plein air paintings are small and range in size from 5 x 7 inches to 12 x 16 inches for example.

Painting outdoors also means the artist can study the infinite colours nature provides in shadow and in light. Plein Air paintings are full of light.

The Impressionists were famous for painting en plein air and were the first to explore outdoor painting. They had a modern palette of colours and put them in tubes. This allowed them to take their colours with them to the outdoors.

The process of plein air teaches the painter to look intensely and paint quickly and therefore plein air paintings tend to be painted loosely. Make no mistake however that because detail may be lacking that these paintings are easy to produce. In fact the opposite is true. The plein air artist must say a lot quickly and with very few brush strokes.

Many people may ask “how long did it take you to paint that painting?” My response is always anywhere from an hour to one or two days, plus 40 years. Sometimes a painting can come easily and other times with problems but the process of creating a work of art is the result of hard work over a lifetime driven by passion.

Outdoor painting has many challenges which include weather, sun and rain or fog, wind, bugs, dogs and curious spectators who wish to know what you are doing. Sometimes events of nature happen all at once with easel and canvas flying in every direction. The challenges however are worth the effort for what the eye can see away from the studio. The experience, observation and painting the landscape and light one sees outdoors can vastly improve a studio painting as well.

Plein Air Painting List for the Oil Painter

  • French box either full or half box or tripod and pochade box
  • Your basic palette plus a large tube of Alkyd titanium white
  • A palette
  • View finder
  • Turpentine or paint thinner to clean your brushes
  • Medium…turpentine and stand oil
  • Canvas boards Gessoed MDF board …various sizes
  • Plastic bags large and small
  • Receptacle for turpentine waste ..a jar with a lid
  • Jar for medium
  • Clips to firmly attach plastic bag to your easel
  • Paper towels
  • Sun hat
  • Sun screen
  • Bug repellant
  • Allen wrench
  • Pliers
  • Lighter
  • Assorted clamps and bungee cords
  • Jacket
  • Rain Gear
  • Umbrella for sun and rain
  • Pepper spray if you are in the wilderness
  • A rock to weigh down your pochade or easel in case of wind
  • Camera is optional
  • Water and a lunch!