Plein Air Painting Tips from Pastelist Aaron Schuerr

Aaron Schuerr Provides Some Plein Air Painting Tips

Read below for some plein air painting tips from Aaron Schuerr, a featured artist from the October 2012 issue of Pastel Journal:

Although it may sound contradictory, true spontaneity is rooted in planning, study and experience. John F. Carlson said it well in his classic, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting (Dover, 1973): “Do not be afraid that too much labor over the composition is going to kill the spontaneity. Those who absorb and digest their experiences are, of a sudden, mountains of strength and can produce pictures with spontaneous start and finish.” I’ll admit that I didn’t have a clue what Carlson was talking about when I first read his advice years ago, but I’m beginning to understand. A little planning won’t constrain artists; rather, it liberates us, opening us to new and wonderful possibilities.

Let’s visit the setting for our plein air planning demonstration—Fleshman Creek runs through Livingston and empties into the Yellowstone River at the edge of town. What was once a dump at the edge of a polluted stream has been restored and is now a dog park, and, for me, a wonderful location full of rich plein air painting possibilities. I’m an advocate of returning again and again to familiar haunts. Only then do I really understand the unique dialect of each place.

Imagine—It’s a clear April morning with mild temperatures, the land is emerging from its long winter slumber, and the first hint of green is emerging from beneath the dead grass. It all looks so pretty. So why set up here and paint? I start with what catches my eye first. Then I ask myself a series of questions: What’s the major form? Where’s my center of interest? If the dominant form is the lead actor, is the supporting cast up to snuff? Are there obvious incongruous elements that need to be changed? How stable is the light?

Plein air painting is the arena for decisive action. Ask questions, trust your answers and go for it. If the painting falls flat, you’ve only lost a couple hours, and, as I tell my students, every bad painting is one step closer to the good one. In other words, painting on location is never a loss; there’s no such thing as a bad day in the field.

Aaron Schuerr's Completed Painting | Plein Air Painting

Spring at Fleshman Creek (pastel, 18×24) by Aaron Schuerr was the outcome of a plein air study and preparatory drawings.


In the October 2012 issue of Pastel Journal, I’ll illustrate this concept by taking you through the process of creating a field study, a charcoal preparatory drawing and a larger studio pastel.


Looking for more from Aaron Schuerr? Check out this article about his extreme plein air painting.

Interested in more plein air painting tips? In this article, plein air painters tell you what you need to know about painting en plein air.



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