Plein Air Painting - Which Paint to Use


Best mediums for drawing and painting en plein air!


In our series on plein air painting thus far, we've covered the definition and history of outdoor art, as well as some popular places for creating it. But what should we use when painting or drawing en plein air? Today we'll discuss the pros and cons of some of the most popular plein air painting media, so you can choose for yourself what to take into the field!




Pencils are perhaps the most basic of plein air media — and some of the most versatile! Whether using plain graphite, charcoal pencils, or vibrant colored pencils, drawing pencils are capable of rendering all the detail of nature, as well as overarching impressions of its greatness. In addition, the set-up for drawing en plein air is perhaps the simplest of all: your chosen pencils, and a pad of paper with a stiff backing are technically all you need!


Recommended Drawing Pencils:





Pastels are a unique medium, bridging the gap between dry and wet media. Artworks done in pastels are called "paintings" for a reason, as the pastel artist can get as much depth of color and expression as from wet paints — but all from a comparatively "dry" media in stick form. For plein air paintings in pastel, all that's needed would be the chosen pastel (soft, oil, or semi-hard), a pad of heavyweight, stiff pastel paper, and if so desired, water (for soft pastels) or solvent (for oil pastels) and a brush to wet-blend directly on the artwork surface.


Recommended Pastels:





Many people immediately think of watercolors when they think of plein air painting: of the "wet media" options, watercolors are the most portable, as well as being — essentially — specifically developed for outdoor painting. To paint plein air with watercolors, a few more supplies are needed: paints, brushes, and water, obviously; a block of watercolor paper; and some form of easel or support system. Many brands of watercolor paint have convenient, inclusive sets designed for travel that make bringing paints into the field an easy exercise.


Recommended Watercolors:

Artist Watercolors

Student Watercolors

Watercolor Sets


Acrylic paints are the newest addition to the plein air painting repertoire, and in themselves are also a very versatile one. Acrylics can be thinned down to resemble watercolor, or laid on thick for oil-like impasto techniques, and they dry to permanence comparatively quickly. For artists using acrylics to paint plein air, a larger, more cumbersome set-up is needed, including canvases, paints, palettes, water, easel, brushes and more.


Recommended Acrylics:






Oil colors are the classic plein air painting medium, the one preferred by artists like Monet and Renoir, and the one most frequently thought of when considering the subject. Oils are ideal for capturing the play of light over a landscape, but certain preparations and precautions need to be taken when painting en plein air with oil colors. In addition to all the necessary painting supplies of paints and medium, easel and canvas, the oil painter also needs a way to bring wet canvases back home once the plein air painting session is done. Additionally, modern alkyd and drying mediums can speed the drying time of oil colors.

Recommended Oil Colors:




So there you have it! A brief overview of the most popular plein air painting and drawing mediums. From the most basic set up of pencil and paper, to a full-blown portable oil painting studio, any artist can enjoy creating art outdoors in any medium they prefer. And stay tuned for next time, when we discuss the best way to bring all your art supplies with you when you travel!

What about you? What's your favorite drawing or painting medium for working en plein air? What is it that you like or dislike about it? Tell us about it in the comments below!


Plein Air Painting - Where To Paint


Best places for painting landscapes en plein air!



In our last post, we discussed the definition and history of plein air painting; determining that the simplest definition is "painting nature from within nature." Today, we'll take a little trip to discover said nature, and pick out a few perfect locations for plein air paintings!



People have always had a dynamic relationship with nature. Nature is beautiful; it is also dangerous and, at times, downright scary. But whether we are revering nature or fearing it, there is always a sense of awe attached. Nature is wondrous. It is bigger than us, it can demolish us, but we are stricken with a sense of amazement when we truly experience it, even through a secondary medium like a photograph.

This is probably why nature painting, specifically landscape painting (and, in terms of our discussion, plein air painting) has been such a popular art form across time and cultures. The two main traditions are found in Western painting and Chinese art and both forms can be traced back over a thousand years. The term "landscape" was originally introduced to the English language in the 17th century and was used exclusively for classifying works of art. It was a hundred years before it was used to describe the real thing.

Landscape paintings generally include three elements: a natural wonder such as a mountain, waterfall, or canyon; a view of the sky; and an element of weather. People are sometimes included, and when they are, we get the sense that they serve a purpose: to be dwarfed by their surroundings.

As an artist, you can be selective about what you include. Who holds the paintbrush holds the power here. Some artists have painted landscapes from photographs they have taken, but there are complicated techniques involved, and it is best to experience the site first-hand so that you can transfer the emotions of the experience to others who will later view the painting.

If you've been itching to take a trip to explore your landscape painting skills, you're in luck! We've come up with five great places for plein air landscapes. Different painters have different preferences, so here they are in no particular order:

Southwest US

  • The American Southwest Georgia O'Keeffe was particularly fond of northern New Mexico for her landscapes. You can also check out the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona. Sedona, AZ is particularly popular in the fall; they host an arts festival every October.

New England

  • New England is also a popular place during the autumn season. The leaf-changing sparks its own category of tourism. It's also a lovely place to paint, and Maine specifically is a favorite spot for landscapes. Its location in the hemisphere grants it a uniquely slanted light; the Island of Monhegan and Acadia National Park are both the subjects of many beautiful paintings.


  • Yosemite National Park, which boasts from its website: "Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra." Yosemite is a one-stop-shop for some of nature's finest specimens, including the famous El Capitan mouantin.


  • Yellowstone National Park Best known for its collection of geysers, but also the home of the Morning Glory Pool — which looks something like if an asteroid hit the Earth and left a rainbow-colored crater in its wake. Few places on the planet offer such unique plein air painting subjects as Yellowstone!


  • If you're in the mood for someplace really exotic, try Bali, Indonesia. A tropical wonder that includes beaches, islands, mountains, volcanoes, and waterfalls; not to mention some of the most stunning architecture.

Monet in his garden

There you go! An extremely limited and by no means exhaustive tour of some popular places for plein air painting. However, if you're not planning on traveling much this plein air season, never fear! Some of the best plein air paintings have been painted from — essentially — the artist's own back yard. Just ask Monet, the father of modern plein air painting, whose most beloved subject was his own garden!  And of course, don't forget about seascapes and cityscapes, both of which are also perfect fodder for plein air painting! Stay tuned for our next post, where we'll tackle the best supplies for plein air painting: and how to bring them with you when you do travel!

What about you? Where have you gone to paint en plein air? Or if this will be your first outdoor painting season, where will you go? What's your dream painting location? Let us know in the comments below!



Plein Air Painting - An Introduction


Spring into plein air season!

Weather notwithstanding, spring has nearly sprung! Soon the days will be warming up, the sun will be out longer, and painters will be heading outdoors in droves for a bit of plein air painting. Over the next few days, we'll be discussing the ins and outs of painting en plein air, where to do it, what to bring, how best to travel, and more, so stay tuned, stay informed, and learn all you need to prepare for spring painting season!


Claude Monet

What is plein air painting?

If you're at all familiar with art and painting, even peripherally, chances are you've heard of "plein air" painting. Despite appearances, painting en plein air is not just a snooty phrase tossed around by painters who are trying to be impressive: it's a real thing, practiced for hundreds of years, and one most likely in practice today by many artists who just aren't aware of its fancy French name.

The term en plein air is simply French for "in the open air," meaning plein air painting is just creating art outdoors. Now, you'll be thinking, "What about cavemen? What about Australian aborigines? What about all those outdoor megaliths and Egyptian statues and everything that's been around for thousands of years before France even existed?  Surely THEY didn't work en plein air!" Okay, technically that's correct.  It's just that the French coined the phrase for it back in the 1800's when painting outdoors really took off and its popularity skyrocketed.


John Singer Sargent plein air painting.

 Why the 1800's, you ask? A number of reasons, including an expanding middle class and a school of thought geared towards natural beauty, all led to an increased interest in arts and painting. But most importantly, access to needed materials was suddenly broadened by the creation of ready-made paints. Previously, since the beginning of time essentially, artists would have to painstakingly make their own paint, color by color, grinding pigments into binders – only making a small amount at a time, since there was no way to keep it fresh and prevent it from drying out. In the mid 19th century, however, there was a "big bang" in the art supply world, aided by the invention of metal paint tubes, that allowed manufacturers to create oil paints in bulk, sealing them up in tubes to stay fresh. Additionally, "moist" watercolors – the re-wettable pans we are familiar with today – were developed, providing a convenient, portable, and accessible medium.  Suddenly, artists and art enthusiasts alike could easily acquire necessary painting materials without having to make them from scratch – already pre-packaged for bringing into the field!Winsor & Newton Watercolor advertisement.


Coinciding with these new portable paints was the artistic views of such schools of thought as the Impressionists and the Barbizon school: most notably, that natural daylight is the ideal illumination, and aimed for depicting it accurately and tracking its changes. In a sense, these 19th century plein air painters didn't only paint outdoors, they painted a moment in time, the passage of time, and the feelings it left behind. Though highly criticized and even ridiculed at first, Impressionism and its spin-offs greatly aided the popularity of plein air painting, as they believed the best and only way to paint this movement of light over nature was to be right there in front of it whilst painting.

So in the end, a combination of technical innovation and popular thought in the 1800's brought outdoor painting to the masses, as it were, and there it has remained ever since. Boiled down to its essence, plein air painting is painting nature from within nature, and as such is an avenue open to any and all artists – whether they use a fancy phrase to describe it or not!


Notable Plein Air Painters:

Claude Monet

Winslow Homer

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Georgia O'Keeffe

John Singer Sargent

Edgar Payne

 Stay tuned to the blog for more posts about plein air painting in the upcoming week! At Jerry's Artarama, we're determined to be ready for the spring plein air season, and hope you will be too. What are some of your favorite plein air topics or artists? Let us know in the comments below!


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