Tips for Painting a Figure Outdoors

Bill Hosner, featured artist in the February 2008 issue of The Pastel Journal, offers these hints for painting a figure en plein air:

  1. Wear a hat that shields your eyes from the sun; even on a cloudy day this helps with focus.
  2. Never change a painting from a direct sun effect to an overcast effect, or vice versa. If the clouds are coming and going (and they often will), choose one scenario and be patient. Don’t try to paint two paintings at once.
  3. Squint at your subject. You absolutely must simplify what you see or you’ll never finish.
  4. Always keep in mind that you’re probably farther along in a painting than you realize. Your mind wants to act like a camera, but train it to think like an artist. A hand-held mirror can be useful, allowing you to see things you can’t see when looking straight on—and that includes seeing the completeness of a passage in the painting.
  5. As you gain experience and confidence, you’ll begin to anticipate how the light effects are going to change and can paint ahead somewhat.
  6. If you have a large number of cast shadows, they must be drawn in the beginning. That way, they’ll all point in the same direction.
  7. Exaggerate the action of the figure at first. The longer we paint, the more the action begins to subside. If you start accurately with the action, it will end up too static. Artist Frank Reilly used to say, "It’s OK to err in the right direction."
  8. Don’t panic over changing conditions. Instead, be excited if something has changed; it will make a better painting. Put it in the way you see it at that exact moment and remember: you want to take advantage of change, but that doesn’t mean trying to keep things updated across the entire work.



Summer Tide (pastel, 20×16) by Bill Hosner


Gail at the Beach (pastel, 20×16) by Bill Hosner

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