Painting en plein air has taught me many things, but the biggest lesson I have learned is to simplify. My paintings always look stronger when I don’t paint everything I see. On location, I’m aware that I’m working with a sense of urgency, as light and weather can change quickly. I try to use that to my advantage by choosing to include only the important elements and abandoning less significant ones.
— Keiko Tanabe
Make sure that there is a strong underlying abstract design in your composition, made up of interlocking shapes and values. Doing value studies on location is a great tool for learning to peel away everything that is unnecessary. You can then work directly from your value study to create a color study or finish a painting outside. You can also take your value studies back to the studio for more detailed work. To augment the value studies, I will often make notes about the colors that I see, the temperature of the light, and the sounds and smells that I experience.
— Sarah Yeoman
Never try to duplicate what’s there. Interpret. Plein air painting is all about observation and interpretation, not about reproducing every feature or copying exact details of a specific location. I’ve learned that focusing on the artist’s visual language of lines and shapes, colors and textures, is the best way to express my creative vision clearly and artistically, and is just as important on site as in the studio.
— Shuang Li
My sketchbook is my thinking and planning tool. I find it indispensable on site, but now even in the studio as well. When you are on location, everything is changing—the light, shadows, people, cars, etc. With a sketchbook, I am able to design my composition and value pattern, which I then work from for my painting. Capturing these key elements in my sketchbook not only helps deal with the constantly changing nature of plein air, but also makes my paintings stronger in the studio.
— Brienne Brown
Want to see these top watercolor plein air artists put their best advice into action and teach you their tried-and-true outdoor painting techniques? Join them in Santa Fe in April for the 2018 Plein Air Convention & Expo.