Landscapes, Painting

How to Paint in Plein Air: Painting Outdoors Tips for Beginners

June 5, 2014

Take Your Artwork Outside for New Inspiration 

By Alina Bradford

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art 2013 - Bill Cramer, Aaron Schuerr ^ Jim Wodark Plein Air Painting 2133 - Flickr - Grand Canyon NPS

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art 2013 – Bill Cramer, Aaron Schuerr ^ Jim Wodark Plein Air Painting 2133 – Flickr – Grand Canyon NPS

En plein air is when an artist paints landscapes outside. This is the optimum way to paint a successful landscape since photographs cannot completely capture subtleties in light, atmospheric perspective and shadow. Finding the perfect setting, the right time of day and the right gear can be difficult, though. These tips will help any artist create a successful plein air painting. 

Painting Location

The ideal location for painting outdoors is somewhere the artist can use as much room as possible and use that space as long as they want. So, ideally, a busy sidewalk in Manhattan may not be the best place to set up an easel. A quiet park may be a better choice, on the other hand.

The artist also has to consider how much privacy they will need to paint. Will it be okay if people come up and ask questions every few minutes? The outgoing artist may love this, but shy artists may prefer to find areas where very few people will see them, such as a secluded beach, on the shore of a privately owned pond or even in their own backyard.

Time of Day

Artist Liron Sissman painting en plein air in Ringwood State Park

Artist Liron Sissman painting en plein air in Ringwood State Park


Choosing the right time of day can provide the artist with dramatic lighting for their painting. The location should be scouted at several different times to find the best time to paint. Early mornings and late after
noons often provide soft light with dramatic shadows that can be ideal for interesting paintings, not to mention the sky at these times are the most colorful.

Landscape painters should avoid painting in the hours around noon. The light during this time is very stark and washes out colors, especially in the summertime.

Edouard Manet 010

Claude Monet in Argenteuil by Édouard Manet, 1874.

Outdoor Painting Gear

Packing gear for outdoor painting can be tricky. There is a lot of gear that a painter needs to complete a painting, but the artist also has to transport and carry all of that gear. So, it is important to pack smart. Here is a list of items that are needed when painting outdoors:

  • An airtight bag to carry brushes until they can be washed 
  • Canvas or art paper rolled and put in a mailing tube 
  • Paper towels or baby wipes 
  • Backpack with a lot of pockets 
  • Light collapsible easel that can be carried 
  • Bottles of water 
  • Bulldog clips to secure items during windy weather or to hold paper to an easel 
  • Airtight jar of turpentine or mineral oils (if using oil paints) 
  • Cloth to roll brushes in to protect them from damage (felt is ideal because it is stiff)

Painting On Location

Since weather and lighting can change quickly, it is important to capture as much as the artist can in a very short amount of time. This will probably require the artist to come back to the location repeatedly, as well. It may be helpful to mark the location with a small flag so that the spot isn’t lost.

Using these tips, the artist should be prepared to create their first plein air painting.

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