Plein Air Tips and Tricks

When time is of the essence and your access to supplies is limited, you have to be prepared to make the most of what you have. Plein air watercolor painter Frank Costantino offers his best advice for how to handle just about any outdoor painting situation.

“Gladys Walker’s Farm, Weston, CT” (watercolor, 16 x 16 in.)

“What do you do …

when there’s the chance for inclement weather. Pack a suitably sized trash bag to protect your work from showers or sudden downpours. I’ve saved many nearly finished watercolors by having one at hand.

if you don’t have an easel umbrella on site. Look for the sun’s track over a few hours to find a convenient shade condition to set up for the duration of work. Sometimes a shaded spot affects your choice of view.

“Library’s Urn, New York City” (watercolor, 14 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)

when you need to work quickly with a frame shop for displaying a piece at an event. Pre-size your image area to a planned matte or frame size.

to maximize the placement of your easel on site. Set your easel in the direction of view. Many artists position themselves at right angles to their subject and have to shift view, constantly refocusing between the large-scale view and the reduced image on the easel.

to keep your colors fresh. Remember to pay careful attention to the degrees of paper moisture, as well as the moisture in your brushes.”

“Orange Street Church, Nantucket” (watercolor, 13 x 10 1/4 in.)

About the Artist
As an architectural illustrator for over 45 years, Frank M. Costantino provided a national clientele of architects with illustrations of projects around the world. During these professional years, he also developed his watercolor painting, focusing on urban scenes, landscapes, homes, and portraits in a direct, alla prima, colorist style, often in plein air.


  1. The sun moves east to west. And, most smart phones include a compass. With a little practice, you’ll always know where the light on the scene will be and where the shade will be.


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