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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

25 Truisms of Plein Air Painting

"Warm in the Storm"
Oil on linen - 8x10"

This was painted on a gray, blustery day this summer. Didn't plan on putting all the colour in, just kinda went that way.

This post is inspired by lots of personal experience - including some masterful whining - and from noticing, in teaching over a hundred plein air students this summer, that for artists new to the plein air game, there seems to be an idea that it is supposed to be, hmmm - easier.

25 Truisms of Plein Air Painting

  1. There will be rain.
  2. You will be cold.
  3. There will be sun.
  4. You will be hot.
  5. It will be windy.
  6. Your easel will fly.
  7. Bugs will bite you. Right on the back of your neck just as you are laying in the key highlight on the water.
  8. People, curious people with no sense of personal boundaries, will appear from out of nowhere behind you and enthusiastically exclaim, "Hey! Can I see what yer doin'?" Usually just as your painting has entered the ugly duckling stage.
  9. You will fight with your gear.
  10. Your gear will win. 
  11. You will bring way too much stuff.
  12. You'll vow to downsize.
  13. It will take a very, very, very long time for this to occur.
  14. Your painting will look nothing like what's in front of you. Most of the time. This can be good. This can be bad.
  15. You will learn and grow and improve each time you go out.
  16. It won't feel like it.
  17. You will feel frustrated, lost, confused, hopeless and very much like a total beginner. Alot.
  18. You'll feel like you will never get it.
  19. You will get it. 
  20. You will develop superpowers of sight.
  21. You will build character.
  22. You'll have rich experiences that will turn into treasured memories.
  23. You'll deepen friendships through the bond of shared adventure.
  24. There will be a sense of passion, joy, peace, inspiration, connection, and wonder available to you every time you go out.
  25. 24 is the very best part. And the easiest to lose sight of. Unless you forget easy, forget comfortable, forget outcome; and tune in to that.


  1. Oh, how I love (and live) this list!

    Discovered today, for example, after I had arrived to our PA group's paint-out location, that the wingnut, spacer, and washer had managed to unscrew themselves and fall off the leg of my french easel. I suspect they are somewhere in Escalante, UT - the last place the easel was set up a few days ago.

    My sore back from sitting on the ground to paint today will hopefully be gone by tomorrow...

    1. Lol - that's AWESOME Sonya! Bits of your easel lost in the wilds on Escalante - sounds about right. :-)

  2. Ah Liz - you nailed it! I just love this post. I want to print out this list and tape it in my car. All of those things have happened (love the flying easel - now have some really good screwdrivers in my bag) many times. Plus the odd animal encounter. It's a beautiful painting! BTW, how's your book going?

    1. Yep, I think we all have a treasure trove of plein air stories - can't not when you get out there and do it!

      Book has been seriously on the back burner but it was 1/2 done before it got there, and I definitely plan to have it done before the year is out. You can hold me to that. :-)

  3. I like how your list gets encouraging towards the end. Much like plein air painting itself. The more you do it the better you get at it.

    Isn't that true of everything???

    1. I find that's where "determined practice" comes in. Practice alone is not enough - we need to practice with a focus on our weaknesses to really improve.

  4. You forgot the game "Toxic Waste Chase" chasing the trash bag full of paint covered paper towels.

  5. Oh yeah, the Toxic Waste Chase, a key component of the experience, thanks for adding it to the list Jim. :-D

  6. Love it.

    My favorite plein air memory is the sight of Paul dredging the American River, on the backside of Mt Rainier, for my pastels after a blast of wind knocked my easel on its keister.

  7. Thank you Liz. I am a relative newbie to plein air painting and that list totally resonates with me! I have only been out a handful of times so it's encouraging to know that all of the feelings I have are natural. LOL I too have lost a wing nut and a screw from my french easel; I suspect somewhere on Gabriola Island! I sent your list on to my painting partners, Marcela and Diana who also got a chuckle from it.

    1. Hey Sharlene, glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for sharing it! Yep. you're feelings are right on target!

  8. Such insightful 'truisms', Liz. I had to laugh while reading this - especially at number 8! Thank you - I am going to share these with my plein air group!!!

  9. Great truisms, Liz...beautiful painting! I like that it was done on a red ground!!

  10. Great advice Liz, and i will think about your list next time I'm out there, whining about the difficulties of plein air! ha ha