Preparing to Paint en Plein Air

Kathleen painting in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas.

Kathleen painting in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas.

The weather is getting warm and I'm getting excited about heading out to do some plein air painting! What does "plein air" mean? En plein air is a French phrase that means "in the open air." I guess it just sounds better than "I'm going outside to paint." Ha!

I used to be very apprehensive about painting on location. Shy about my work, worried about what people might say to me, and really being unsure about handling equipment and materials outside, in the elements. After I got going, though, I found painting en plein air  to be a very satisfying and inspiring part of my art practice. I encourage everyone to paint and draw outdoors because it can really freshen up your studio work - and it can be a lot of fun - especially if you are prepared!

There are two important things you can do that will help you have an enjoyable trip: 

1.Be prepared. Taking the time to plan your trip and prepare your equipment, clothing, and materials will allow you to focus on the beautiful world around you rather than stressing out over some missed detail. How will you transport wet paintings? Is there shelter if it starts raining? Have you packed the right layers of clothing to protect you from varying weather conditions? How do you pack your art supplies when you fly? What will you do if someone stops to watch you paint?

2. Keep it simple. Being prepared DOES NOT mean taking along everything in your studio! Developing a checklist or a plein air kit will help keep you on the straight and narrow when you are packing. Time yourself setting up and repacking your "stuff". Can you move locations easily or will you be stuck with a not-so-great view because it is just too much trouble to move? Do you really need every tube of green you own?

Whether you are heading out for the morning or going for a month, take the time to plan your trip, organize your materials, and practice setting up your equipment, you will be glad you did!

What is your favorite plein air tool and how has it simplified your plein air setup? I'd really like to know, please leave you comment here.