In this final part of the discussion on plein air painting tips, I want to share a few more observations that may make location painting more pleasurable. The more comfortable we are, the more prone we will be to repeating the experience, ultimately allowing the benefits of working from real life to be reaped.
When painting in intense light, utilizing a larger drawing board that provides a few inches of dead space around the painting can help immensely. This separates the painting from the surrounding scene, making it easier to ascertain value and color choices. Gatorboard works well and comes in both black and white. If your paintings are consistently too dark, try using a white board. Everything will look dark in comparison and you will adjust, working lighter. Conversely, if your paintings are too light and washed out, using a black board will make everything appear too light and you will compensate by working darker. If you work on panels or your pastel paper doesn’t have a border, try reverse taping it to the backing board. Turn the surface upside down and run a strip of tape around the outside border letting half of the width protrude beyond the edge. Turn the surface right side up. There should be a border of exposed tacky tape showing around the surface. Position the surface where desired on the backing board and tape it down. Even a hardboard panel will adhere well using this method. Tape doesn’t adhere well to most pastel surfaces but this method solves that issue and allows for unimpeded painting to the edges.
Bring a camera along. Even though photography is a pale representation of what we observe, knowing that you have recorded detail information can comfort fears. Take as many photos as you wish—the more the better. Remind yourself while you are painting that the photo can provide detail information later and your task is to represent what the camera cannot: the human perspective. Spend your time analyzing the value relationships and subtle color sensations. A loose field painting that has these elements well represented is easily finished back in the studio. Another use for the camera is to record the stages of your painting. Take photos every fifteen to twenty minutes during a painting session. Later you can review the stages and remind yourself of the painting’s progress. This helps to solidify your working technique and allows you to internalize what has worked well and what should be avoided in the future. Since most of my under work gets covered up, having this record has been very educational.
These tips can easily be applied to painting indoors with equally beneficial results. Painting is painting, and all of us need to employ whatever aids necessary to make us the best we can be.
If you have any plein air tips that you would like to share, please post a comment.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS
Check out a calendar of Richard McKinley 2010 workshops on his website. If you can’t meet up with Richard live in person (or even if you can!), check out his new ANTV video workshops either as an online streaming video by visiting the ANTV website here or on DVD at our online shop here.