Pastel Painting en Plein Air, blog

pastel artist painting from the bed of a pickup truck

Plein Air painting is tinted with a mystique that all too often intimidates artists into never venturing outside to paint. It’s a big, scary world out there. It’s also a lovely, inspiring world, one just waiting to fill your senses. When painting on location, an artist willingly surrenders security and accepts vulnerability in exchange for a special intimacy with the landscape. It is WOW special.


Plein air painting can also be physically demanding, horribly uncomfortable, and dreadfully frustrating. I’m talking Biting Bugs. Slithering Snakes. Bears. (I must confess, I’ve never encountered a bear while painting in the woods, but I don’t keep an open jar of peanut butter beside my easel, either.) Wind. Rain. Hail (unlike bears, rather vicious hail stones have battered me at my easel at least twice. Lightning. (I do flee lightning.) Curious people. (If, like me, you prefer painting in silence, curious people who won’t quit talking can be more threatening to a finished painting than lightning.) Sunburn. Blisters. Aching backs…shoulders… hips…(ouch! Did I just step on cactus or barbed wire?)


You get the picture: To paint in open air, an artist must Get There, Stand There (wherever “There” is) Set Up There, and then, miraculously, Paint There. (It is a bonus if you produce a painting that pleases the eye.)


Plein Air painting is actually harder than I make it sound.

It is also one of the most exciting things an artist can do with her clothes on.


Unlike real estate, painting en plein air surprisingly isn’t about location, location, location. Plein air painting is about time. Time. TIME!


Choosing your location and carrying only select equipment with you into the field, over the river or through the woods can make all the difference in how much you enjoy plein air painting. Both can save or squander time, and time is a critical, highly limiting factor when painting en plein air. Including your set up time, you have three, maybe four hours, max, before the light changes so drastically, you’re no longer looking at the same subject. Myself, I plan on two hours, then leap for joy if I get longer than that, and I use most all of those precious minutes soaking up nature while painting.


Now, quit reading, grab a bag of supplies and go outside and paint something. It doesn't have to turn out to be anything resembling a masterpiece. Just enjoy yourself.

Plein air painting isn't about the destination--it's enough that you make the journey.


A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

A plein air pastel begins with that first breath of wind brushing across your canvas.