Tag Archives: plein air. advice

Painting Outside

My easel in Trafalgar Square
My easel in Trafalgar Square

I am frequently asked for advice on painting outside, sometimes by beginners, but often by quite accomplished studio painters. The following tips are replies to questions I have been asked recently.

How do you deal with people watching, negative comments or groups of teenagers? I will be painting in the centre of town!
Most people won’t even notice you! Those that do generally don’t stop for very long, its usually a quick glance and they carry on walking. You will get very few negative comments – I get, perhaps, one a year. I think your own personality will determine to what extent you talk to or ignore people when you are working. As for groups of teenagers, I find that they generally impressed with what you are doing. Its quite cool to be an artist.

Do you find that you sell a lot more work due to the interest in your painting on site ?
I have been invited to show in galleries and exhibitions by people who have seen me painting outside.

Have you any tips you can give me about setting up etc ?
It can be a bit nerve-racking the first time you set up in public but just go for it. Set your gear up and look as though you’ve done it for years – no one know’s any different.
If you are in London I would suggest setting up half-way across Waterloo Bridge. You will find that, as most people crossing the bridge are going somewhere, they won’t stop to bother you and you will quickly get used to people being around while you are working. It sounds like an ‘in at the deep end’ approach but most people will completely ignore you. If you set up outside a pub on a sunny afternoon the drinkers will have plenty of time to stand around and make helpful suggestions.

Some artists try to hide away completely when they work outside, but you probably won’t get the best view point. Be brave and choose your location to give you the best picture. I am quite happy to set up my box easel outside the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square (photo above) or on the South Bank on a busy afternoon.

I use a half box easel with a good padded shoulder strap. I think a full box easel is likely to discourage you from walking very far.

Everything I need goes into one bag, it contains:
6-8 boards in different sizes
a box to carry the wet panels
Low odour white spirit
a small jam jar with lid for cleaning brushes
T-square, useful for straight edges especially the horizon in seascapes
food and drink, hat, gloves etc

One important difference you will notice when painting outside, compared to in a studio, is how fast everything changes. Work small and don’t spend more than 2 hours at a time on a picture. Ideally 1 1/2 hours is about right or the shadows/weather/tide etc will have changed too much and you end up with one picture painted over another. You can always go back another day but in the UK you will be lucky if the light is the same for two days in a row.
If you have any questions or tips to add please leave a comment.

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