Plein Air Painting – It’s Just the Way It Is.

I am finally sharing some of my work. And not everything is good. That is another reason I am sharing. Not every thing works out, but I still learn from the failures. I used to think that everything that I do should be good, should turn out. But it doesn’t. Now I am okay with that. The important thing is to keep trying.

My adventures didn’t take me very far from home. For one thing I have little kids and it is too much to focus on painting while watching them. And for those of you who are not brave enough to go and paint in public, the backyard is a wonderfully safe place to start.

I started with our pear tree. I had painted it before with success. It was a somewhat foggy morning. I wanted to focus on the tree and suggest the background. It just didn’t work. I think I was suggesting too much. So I got “that one” out of the way.

My First Attempt 2011

Then I decided to focus on the flowers. I did lots of sketches of violets. The violet is very interesting if you have not observed one closely. They reminded me of orchids. The problem here is that the violets like shade and so there was not much contrast, except for the lightest part of the flower. The piece was just too dark to work. Of course that is just my opinion.

Next, I tried to do a close up. I liked the underpainting, but didn’t like the piece. At this point I felt like nothing was working, because, well, it wasn’t. So I thought about what I was doing and what I had done in the past. I don’t usually do the close-ups.

Then I decided to paint the neighbor’s yards. It worked better, but I was still not pleased.  I did a few more floral pieces. I like the dandelion piece. I like the softness of the piece.  The dandelion piece and the irises were done on a different paper.  My drawings were much tighter.


I finally ventured out to a bike trail to create this next piece. Much better. I liked the way the sky and trees turned out, although I didn’t feel like I captured the space adequately.

The above pieces were what most people think of when they think of plein air painting – completed entirely on site. For my second painting of the bike trail, I worked from my experience on location, my memories of the place and a photograph. Photographs are not always trust-worthy, but they do help us to remember some things. This piece is a modified plein air painting.  I decided to push some of the trees further back into the background to create a greater sense of depth and added a lot of blue to help focus the viewer’s attention.

I had been reading, and am still reading, “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting.” I was inspired to quit painting so literally out on location. “We must have design at the expense of truth.” I have been struggling with the fact that I have become so literal when painting on location. I want my plein air work to look more like my studio work. And so I decided I would try the exercise of using pencil sketches for the reference for my paintings – still a modified form of plein air painting. This is my first one. I am very happy with it, and I think I am on to something here.

pencil sketch reference


Next I will share some of what I have learned about plein air painting.

Until next time…

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