Plein Air Painting, Pros and Cons and how Artlook can help.

I paint outside as often as I can, sometimes though I do wonder why I do it… when the rain is dripping down my neck or a “helpful” comment from a complete stranger has ruined my thought process.  So I gave some thought to the pros and cons of plein air painting…and then I realised how extremely useful Artlook was to my practice… I thought I would share what I came up with…

Painting en plein air, or painting outdoors, can be highly beneficial for an artist’s practice in several ways:

  1. Observation skills: Painting en plein air allows you to directly observe and capture the natural environment in real-time. It enhances your ability to see and interpret colours, values, and subtle nuances of light and shadow. The ever-changing natural conditions are challenging to observe and force you to respond quickly, honing your observational skills.
  2. Colour accuracy: Working directly from nature enables you to develop a keen sense of colour accuracy. The unique lighting conditions, atmospheric effects, and the play of colours in the environment provide an opportunity to observe and accurately depict colours in their truest form. This skill can greatly enhance your ability to accurately represent colour in any future work.
  3. Composition and spatial awareness: Painting en plein air encourages you to carefully consider the composition of a subject within the surrounding landscape. You must make decisions on how to arrange elements, create depth, and establish a focal point. This practice helps improve your spatial awareness and compositional skills, leading to more compelling and well-balanced artworks. (I hope!)
  4. Brushwork and technique: Working outdoors often necessitates a more rapid and expressive approach to painting. You need to work quickly to capture the changing light and atmosphere, which can lead to looser brushwork and more spontaneous mark-making. Which is something that I am always striving for.  Painting en plein air provides an opportunity to experiment with different techniques, brushstrokes, and textures, with luck, fostering my artistic growth and versatility.
  5. Connection with nature: Being immersed in nature while painting en plein air offers a unique experience that can deeply inspire and inform your work. The direct engagement with the environment allows you to connect with the surroundings, absorb the atmosphere, and capture the essence of a place. This connection can infuse your artwork with a sense of authenticity and evoke an emotional response from viewers.

Once  a plein air painting has been completed, there are several ways the results can be used:

  1. Studio reference: You can use your plein air studies as references for creating larger, more detailed artworks in the studio. The plein air piece serves as a visual reminder of the experience, capturing the essence of the scene, and can be used to inform and inspire future studio works.
  2. Study and analysis: Plein air paintings can be valuable tools for you to study and analyse your techniques, colour choices, and compositional decisions.  I know that my colour pallet and there fore my paint buying changes with the seasons.  By reviewing and reflecting on your outdoor work, you can identify areas for improvement and apply those lessons to future artworks and make shopping lists for materials!
  3. Exhibition and sale: High-quality plein air paintings can be showcased in exhibitions, galleries, or art shows. Collectors and art enthusiasts often appreciate the freshness, spontaneity, and directness of plein air works, making them desirable for purchase. (which is a good thing)
  4. Portfolio development: Including plein air paintings in your portfolio demonstrates your versatility, technical skill, and ability to work in diverse settings. It adds depth and variety to your body of work, showcasing your ability to capture the beauty of the natural world. Think about applications for Art Residencies and how much a body of plein air work would add to your application.
  5. Teaching and sharing: You can use plein air paintings to teach others about their process, techniques, and artistic vision. Sharing these works can inspire fellow artists, students, or even non-artists to appreciate and explore the practice of painting en plein air, after all painting is very good for your mind, body and soul.

Overall, painting en plein air offers an opportunity to develop crucial skills, connect with nature, and create artworks that are infused with authenticity and a sense of place.

While painting en plein air can be a valuable practice for many artists, there are also reasons why some artists may not prefer or enjoy this approach. Here are a few possible reasons:

  1. Weather limitations: Outdoor painting is heavily dependent on weather conditions, which can be unpredictable and challenging to manage. You may face extreme temperatures, strong winds, rain, or intense sunlight, which can make the process uncomfortable or even impractical.
  2. Time constraints: Painting en plein air often requires working quickly to capture the ever-changing light and atmosphere. This time pressure can be stressful for some artists who prefer a more controlled and deliberate approach to their work. Additionally, you may have limited time available for outdoor painting due to other commitments.
  3. Technical difficulties: Outdoor environments present unique technical challenges. Dealing with moving subjects, changing light conditions, and complex natural elements like trees or water can be demanding. You may find it difficult to translate these complexities onto your canvas or struggle with the logistics of setting up your materials in outdoor settings.
  4. Distractions and interruptions: Painting outdoors can expose you to various distractions, such as passers-by, ( “is that finished?” or “my art tutor forbids us to use …insert the colour that is on your brush…” )  wildlife, or noise. These interruptions may disrupt your focus and concentration, making it challenging to immerse yourself fully in the creative process.
  5. Limited control: Working en plein air means working with what nature provides, which may not always align with your desired vision or aesthetic. Artists who prefer more control over their subject matter, lighting, or composition may find the unpredictability of outdoor settings frustrating.
  6. Logistics and equipment: Transporting art supplies, easels, canvases, and other materials to outdoor locations can be cumbersome and require additional effort. Artists who prefer the convenience and organization of working in their studios may find the logistics of plein air painting inconvenient or impractical.
  7. Comfort and practicality: Outdoor painting often requires sitting or standing for extended periods, which can be physically uncomfortable, especially if you have mobility issues or health concerns. You may also need to contend with insects, uneven terrain, or limited access to facilities such as a loo or shelter.
  8. Preference for studio environment: Some artists simply prefer the controlled and comfortable environment of their studios. They may enjoy the ability to work at their own pace, manipulate lighting conditions, or have access to reference materials, references, and tools readily available.

It’s important to note that these reasons vary from artist to artist, and while some may find plein air painting challenging, others may thrive in outdoor settings. So its horses for courses…Ultimately, each artist’s preference and working style will determine whether painting en plein air aligns with their creative practice.

How can Artlook help?…Well a lot actually.  An Artlook inventory system is a valuable tool that enables me to efficiently organize and keep track of my plein air studies, photographs, and sketch references. With this system, I can easily access and refer to my artwork based on various criteria such as date created, place, season, medium, colour, or mood. Here’s how an Artlook inventory system can benefit you in managing your plein air references:

  1. Efficient organization: The inventory system provides a structured framework for you to catalogue and categorize tyour plein air studies. You can create a database where each artwork is assigned relevant metadata such as date, location, medium, and other customizable tags. This allows for quick and efficient searching and sorting based on specific criteria.
  2. Chronological order: You can arrange your plein air studies in the inventory system based on the date created. This feature enables you to easily review and track the progression of your work over time. It also facilitates the identification of patterns, growth, and changes in your artistic style and technique.
  3. Geographical references: The system allows you to link plein air studies to specific locations or places. You can input the geographic coordinates or address details, allowing for easy retrieval of artwork based on the location where it was created. This feature can be particularly useful for artists who frequently paint in different outdoor settings.
  4. Seasonal categorization: You can organize your plein air studies according to the season in which they were created. By assigning seasonal tags or filters, you can quickly access artwork associated with specific times of the year. This categorization allows for easy comparison of artwork capturing the distinct characteristics and moods of different seasons.
  5. Medium-specific sorting: If you work with multiple mediums during your plein air sessions, the inventory system can facilitate sorting and filtering based on the medium used. You can assign tags or labels to identify whether an artwork was created with oil paints, watercolours, pastels, or any other medium. This feature helps you locate and review artwork based on your preferred medium.
  6. Colour and mood classification: An Artlook inventory system can offer additional functionality for you to tag artwork based on colour schemes or moods. You can assign descriptive keywords or labels to capture the predominant colours or emotions expressed in your plein air studies. This feature assists in exploring specific colour palettes or seeking inspiration for future artworks with desired moods.
  7. Quick reference and inspiration: With the Artlook inventory system, you can easily retrieve and review your plein air studies, photographs, and sketches whenever needed. Whether it’s for reference, inspiration, or planning future projects, the organized database allows you to revisit your past work, study your techniques, and draw ideas from your own experiences in the field.

Overall, an Artlook inventory system streamlines the management of plein air references, enabling artists to efficiently organize, sort, and retrieve their artwork based on various criteria such as date, location, season, medium, colour, or mood. This powerful tool facilitates quick reference, analysis, and inspiration, ultimately supporting artists in their creative journey. Which, in my opinion, is what its all about.


About Sarah

Sarah Wimperis is a professional artist and illustrator and also works for Artlook in Client Support and as our Artist Ambassador. Sarah's Artlook website is here.