En Plein Air Painting

Painting outdoors has its disadvantages, I'm sure you've all heard, or possibly experienced. There are the flies, mosquitoes, wind, heat, cold, and furry beasts who knock down easels. But it is an experience worth doing, will help enhance abilities, and is actually enjoyable. I love painting outside. The paintings usually feel fresh and always evoke my sense of the place.

This past weekend, I camped and painted outdoors with artist friends of mine. I took many options: watercolor & journal, gouache & gesso board, acrylics & cradled birch board. 

For hiking, the best choice was to take the watercolor and journal combination. I usually take it when I hike, and it provides great satisfaction both in doing the small paintings, and in looking back through my books of journal entries throughout the year.

It's a good idea when hiking to carry as little weight as possible. Especially when hiking over 8 miles, which we did, LOL! I created watercolor journal paintings on the hike off the Cascade Highway near some lakes at about 4 miles in.

With all the beauty of nature around me, sometimes it is difficult to focus on one small part. I fight against the tendency to paint everything I see, knowing that if I paint what I'm most interested in, the painting will be more successful.

Currently working on a tree series in my studio, I focused on a group of trees near bright huckleberry bushes instead of the reflective water, mountains, logs, and other elements that were beautiful, but required separate paintings.

Once we arrived back at the campsite, it was much easier to pick and choose from the mediums I brought, since all was loaded into my Jeep with easy access. At Little Lava Lake, the three of us artists selected a spot within talking distance and painted as we laughed and visited. Look at this gorgeous view.

The sun was warm, the birds were out, and there was a small breeze. This was my happy place. Since watercolor is more familiar to me, and is well within my comfort zone, I began with a quick watercolor on paper sketch.

The sketch solidified ideas for colors, shapes and value placements and helped me consider a different orientation.

After the sketch, I switched to using acrylics on cradled birch board, oriented vertically. Acrylics tend to dry quickly, especially in such a warm, beautiful day as this, so it was important to have a palette that stayed wet, in order to keep the paints moist. I loved the effects of a palette knife once the composition had been realized with a brush.

One thing about acrylics: they contain very vivid pigments! I always have to remember to tone the paint down a bit with a complementary color. The light blue distant trees are cerulean with a touch of cad red light. I didn't use a tube green, instead mixing cad yellow medium with cobalt and cerulean. I used a limited palette of 5 colors plus white. This keeps the painting unified.

After that session, we took a break, then painted again in a new location, with gorgeous afternoon sunlight slanting through hazy air. Again, I painted a small watercolor in my journal, then began a gouache on 5x7 gesso board. I use an old eyewear-parts container as my gouache palette. Works great!

Gouache is just like watercolor, only more opaque. It can quickly get muddy, so it's important to keep the colors clear and clean, being careful not to mix too many colors together at once. You can see the difference of color and opacity in the gouache painting below compared to the watercolor journal paintings previously. Keep in mind that this is on gesso board, which accepts the pigment differently than paper. It's very velvety in application.

What do you think? Doesn't it look fun? Would you try it? Which is your favorite medium? Which of these paintings do you like best?

I still plan on organizing a plein air class(stay tuned), and joining plein air groups of the PNW. It's just too much fun not to share.

Thanks for reading everyone. Stay well and enjoy the outdoors!