Painting landscapes en plein air requires both intuition and observation—and working on a large surface can increase your aptitude for both. In The Artist’s Magazine (October 2012), Joe Paquet shares his large landscape paintings and his techniques for painting outside. The following is a free excerpt from the feature article.
Tips for Working Large En Plein Air
by Joe Paquet
Wear neutral colors. Sunlight reflects off your clothes onto the canvas and can skew your perception of color.
Don’t hold your palette. Keep your hands as free as possible for changing brushes or grabbing a rag. One more thing in your hand is just one more thing to be aware of.
Use fresh color on a clean palette. Working with gummy pigment makes your job harder. Color that isn’t fresh loses its adhesive quality.
Work on a toned canvas. My painting method is predicated on putting paint down and leaving it, and a toned canvas keeps me from having to “kill the white” over the entire surface before I can make sound, relative judgments about color and value. (My toning color is a combination of raw umber and lead white.)
Keep your medium clean. Working with a fouled medium can muddy color. The percentages of oil to solvent are also important. I use a 1:1 mixture of cold-pressed linseed oil and Gamblin Gamsol. If you use the right proportions in your medium mixture and work with only enough medium to move the paint, you should be able to paint over a previous paint layer within an hour and a half. Be careful not to dilute your paint too much.
Use a sturdy, high-quality easel. I work with an original Jullian French easel, which has plenty of room for paints, brushes and mediums. I secure oversized canvases (anything more than 24×30 inches) to the easel by attaching the ends of a couple of bungee cords over the top of the canvas, running the cords down the back of the canvas over the easel upright, and then attaching the other ends of the bungee cords to the bottom of the canvas.
Use good paint. I use highly pigmented colors, which have a good tinting strength. As a landscape painter, I find being able to work in a high key (light value) is essential for luminosity. My preferred paints are Old Holland, Winsor & Newton and Vasari. My standard palette is lead white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, cadmium scarlet, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, manganese blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, ivory black and, for toning, raw umber.
Use a receptive painting surface. If you’re fighting the surface, it’s time to change it. I use panels from New Traditions Art Panels for paintings measuring from 8×10 inches to 30×40 inches. I use Claessens oil-primed linen, style 12 or 13, for smaller works and style 15 for larger works. I mount the linen to New Traditions Art Panels Gatorfoam panels, which stand up well to both extreme cold and heat.
Use quality, well-maintained brushes. I use a variety of long, bristle flats and keep a small sable handy for signing a painting or adding a select bit of detail. If you can soften an edge with a flat, you can soften an edge with any brush. It’s a touch issue—not a brush issue.
Keep your canvas out of the sun. Use a good umbrella (Artwork Essentials is my favorite). Working in direct sun can skew your perception of color temperature and lead to disappointment when you bring your work indoors.
Be patient, grateful and humble. Just to have the opportunity to paint is a gift. Stay grateful for the opportunity, humble to the task and, for heaven’s sake, be patient with yourself. Keep your heart open and your hand sure.
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