Plein Air Painting

Beach Painting in February

We were enjoying daytime temperatures in the upper 70’s to low 80’s here in Virginia last February. I took advantage of the opportunity to visit Virginia Beach to paint outside. Over time, the following tips have proven themselves to be valuable when painting outside:

  • It’s best to paint outside before 10am or after 2pm because the shadows and light contrasts are stronger.
  • Most tend to stay for no more than 2 hours. The light has changed so dramatically after 2 hours that you’re basically painting a whole new painting.
  • The light in the morning and the light in the afternoon have different qualities.
  • Carry as little as possible when painting outside and you’ll go outside far more often.

When I arrived to the beach, this was my setup:

I carry most of what I need for watercolor painting in my purse (including water). If I’m doing urban sketching, then I’ll include my sketchbook in my purse. For formal painting outside or plein air painting, I leave the sketchbook at home. I take my folding easel and a small bag with watercolor paper and something to attach the paper to.

Since it was really, really early in the morning, you can see the long shadow that my body made in the sand. This is why you get better paintings at sunrise and sunset.

When painting outside, you have to be prepared for visitors. I love it when people stop by to talk to me about my artwork. It’s easy to connect when you are both excited about the same place. However, there are lots of non-human visitors when you paint at the beach such as this dog who hung out watching me for 15-20 minutes.

He kept his distance but was only chased away by a dog. Often, dog owners won’t have their dogs on leashes in parks or at the beach. As a result, many dogs will come up and start sniffing around your easel.

I use watercolor paints with honey so they may smell like food. Flies and bugs tend to be attracted to the watercolor palette. Shooing them away becomes pointless after a while.

Also, there is usually water (with paint inside) sitting on the ground that may look like water to drink. Fortunately, none marked me as part of their territory.

In the end, the goal is to experience the process of painting. I typically end up looking at whatever I am painting in a different light than I did before I started. I am getting closer to ending up with a finished painting at the end, but the goal for me is to develop and refine a new way of seeing the world around me.

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