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!

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