Outside the Lines

240 TipsYou might already be familiar with Plein Air magazine, and maybe you’ve seen the beautiful and inspiring video Outside the Lines. I received information about the magazine and a link to the video several months ago, and while I got online and browsed a bit — enough to download the free 240 Plein Air Tips e-book, that’s as far as I went.

Later, I did read a few of those 240 tips, but since I’m not much of a plein air painter, having attempted it only once, I can’t say the tips have been useful for me.

I will admit that painting outdoors appeals to me in many ways. I love nature, I enjoy hiking, and I’m probably at my happiest when I’m in a woodland setting or at the water’s edge.

So, why haven’t I done more plein air painting? Good question.

Following my first — and only — outdoor oil painting experience, I was inspired. I looked forward to doing more painting en plein air. But then:

  • We had a lot of rain
  • The weather turned unbearably hot
  • I got really busy

Excuses, nothing more. The real reasons why I never went outdoor painting again have more to do with my personal doubts and with the logistics of the whole process. Gathering up paints, solvents, medium, canvases — and let’s not forget a palette like I did on my first time out — along with a portable easel, and then finding a way to get it all into the car without making a mess… well, am I just making another excuse? Maybe so.

I know devoted plein air artists aren’t fazed by such problems. They’re prepared to paint anywhere at any time. I’ve read of artists stopping at the edge of a highway to set up an easel and “quickly capture the scene.”

Even cold winter weather doesn’t put a damper on their enthusiasm, which brings me to why I’m writing about plein air painting in early December. Tuesday was the Christmas luncheon for the art league I belong to, and along with lots of good food and an abundance of desserts, we had a short presentation. We watched Outside the Lines, the video produced by Plein Air magazine.

It’s a beautiful presentation, and it’s definitely inspiring.

As we watched the film, artists all around me were remarking about getting prepared for winter painting. It was a cold, snowy day, and the last thing I would want to do would be to stand outside with an easel.

Maybe that makes me less of an artist than others, but I already know that to be true anyway. Still, even bad weather — along with the aforementioned difficulties of transporting supplies to a site — is, for me, just one more excuse.

The simple truth is that I’m afraid of painting outdoors where curious onlookers may be standing at my shoulders. I’m afraid of wasting my time trying to paint a scene that ends up looking nothing like the view before me. I’m afraid of other artists — real artists — shaking their heads and laughing at my childish attempts.

I did have a young couple watch me paint for a few minutes during my first outing, but fortunately they came along early in the process, at a point where I was just starting to lay in colors for the sky and the grass, a point in the painting where possibilities still existed. I was glad they didn’t return to view the finished work — which bore little resemblance to the scene I was supposedly painting.

Again, I fell back on the paint what you feel, not what you see idea, and told myself that it was all right, but in truth, that was merely my way of justifying my inability to paint the actual landscape before me.

At the reception for our HFAA art show in October, I had an opportunity for a little one-on-one chat with the judge. His recommendation to me for continuing my art study was that I spend time… yep, you guessed it… painting en plein air.

It’s something I need to do, and chances are, if I did it more often, I would come to love it, at least when the weather is comfortable. Sometimes I think I would feel more confident if I were painting with a group; at other times I think being part of a group would only make me more hesitant, more worried about not measuring up.

Measuring up? To what? To my own expectations, I suppose. The video encourages artists of all skill levels to get outdoors and paint, pointing out that painting is a skill that can be learned, and that, with practice, beginning artists can get better.

Still, it’s a huge step for me, one I won’t likely be taking for some time to come. I’ll be painting winter scenes over the next few months, but I’ll be painting them from the warmth and comfort of my little kitchen studio.

And then spring will arrive, and maybe then I’ll gather up those paints and palettes, my brushes and my easel, and maybe I will venture outside.

Obviously, I can use a bit of encouragement — as well as any honest opinions you’d like to share regarding plein air painting. Is it something you do often? What advice do you have for making the process simpler to manage? Do you prefer being alone? Do you like painting in a group? And the big question, did you ever experience any of those self-doubt feelings? Have you ever gone out painting only to ask yourself, “What am I doing here?”

I hope you’ll watch the video and that you’ll also share your thoughts. Meanwhile, I’ve got a bit of time to read through those 240 tips for plein air painting.

Your thoughts, please?


  1. Thank you for another terrific post. I think it really matters whether you are painting all by yourself or belong to an art group. I find the latter to be more motivational. My excuse: I have a dog that doesn’t feel like waiting for me while I paint (I’ve tried!). So, when the weather permits, I bring a sketchbook and a couple of pencils. I find sketching with pencils to be hassle-free, and a good way to brush up on my sketching skills.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really enjoyed taking my drawing pencils and sketchbooks outdoors last summer. It’s very relaxing as long as I do it early in the mornings, otherwise I start feeling rushed, thinking about getting home and fixing dinner (we eat dinner about 2 in the afternoon). I sometimes think if I had an easier way to transport everything, maybe I could get into the habit of going to the park each morning (when spring comes, that is) and maybe then I could get accustomed to it and wouldn’t feel so self-conscious. Sketching with graphite is certainly much easier to do!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I once sketched outdoors and it was a great experience. Besides lugging everything needed to paint, I don’t like being out in the sun for a long while with sunscreen, big hat and long sleeved shirt, especially standing the whole time. I made myself a pochade box a little smaller than a cigar box, but never used it. I thought about a lightweight folding chair… you really said everything though, about why plein air doesn’t get me too excited.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who finds it a bit of a hassle. Maybe I can compromise and do plein air with a set of soft pastels. Much easier to carry around!


    1. You might give the pastel pencils a try. I have the pan pastels, btw, and while I like the results from them, I don’t find them all that easy to use. I don’t think I’ve even touched mine once in the last year or so.


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