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Tips For Plein Air Painting

Plein Air Painting Tips

Plein air painting first became popular in the 1880s with the Impressionists. The fact that paint was now available in tubes allowed these artists to work "in the open air" instead of their studios. This freedom helped the Impressionists capture the ever-changing light and shadows of their landscape and world. Today, modern plein air painters continue this passion for painting outdoors.

Plein air painting can be a wonderful experience, especially if you prepare properly. If possible, scout out your location beforehand to find what inspires you. Remember, you are the artist, so you don't need to include every detail in a particular scene - you are allowed to edit and enhance. Along with your Interactive paints, mediums and water sprayer, consider taking a few different surfaces or canvases. That way, when the light and shadows change, you'll be able to paint the new scene before your eyes. Always remember to take your "dirty water" with you for proper disposal, and bring a trash bag for dirty paper towels and other waste. Other handy non-paint items are a portable easel and stool, a snack, plenty of water to drink and sunscreen and/or a hat!

Because you have the ability to control Interactive's drying process with the water sprayer, you can work wet-in-wet if desired, even outdoors. The Liquid Slow Medium and the Thick Slow Medium will extend Interactive's open time, which can be helpful in this type of situation. Since the environment affects Interactive's drying and curing time, you might find that you need to use the Unlocking Formula instead of water to reopen paint layers. This is especially true if you are painting in a warm and sunny place! You can also use the Unlocking Formula the next day to reopen paint layers if you choose to "finish" your painting in the studio at a later time.

There are (9) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_5533

    Ian Bruce commented on April 20, 2008, at 11:29 am.

    Here in Maine in early Spring the water sprayer is not necessary for misting the painting--and Slow Medium and Unlocking Formula are a no-no. The trick is to get the painting started as the temperature rises above freezing and finish it before the temperature drops down to freezing again! Sometimes I don't make it. Last week I used a coat of binder medium to 'lock' the surface enough to layer over it. I couldn't afford to wait for the near freezing paint to set up. When you lift a brush from the water container and there is a little collar of ice around the handle--it is time to stop.

  2. comment_2_5533

    Jennifer commented on April 23, 2008, at 12:19 pm.


    John sent this message in through the suggest a topic or ask a question form and asked me to put it up here as a comment.

    Just wanted to let you know that I've published an eBook with a great plug for Interactive acrylics on pages 11-12 of Chapter 4. (By the way, I'm one of the artists in your gallery and I've been featured in the
    newsletter.) It also has a section on plein air painting. Here's the link to my new, free mini-eBook, Painting for the Rest of Us -- it's on the web at

    What's it about? As I say in the Preface:

    "If you plan to take the New York art world by storm or make a living as a professional artist, this book is not for you. But if you just want to paint and have fun, then read on.

    It doesn't matter if you've never painted before. Or if you only paint once and a while. Of, if like me, you're a dedicated hobbyist who paints all the time. If you're interested in painting strictly for enjoyment, then this book is for you."

    I hope you enjoy reading some or all of the book and looking at the artwork.

    Also, I would be very grateful if you could pass the link on to anyonewhom you think might be interested in reading PFTROU (to coin an acronym).

    Thanks very much and enjoy.


  3. comment_3_5533

    Jim Cobb commented on May 27, 2008, at 12:29 pm.

    Here is a new info sheet that covers my experience when painting with Interactive Plein Air and in other difficult conditions.


  4. comment_4_5533

    Jennifer commented on June 5, 2008, at 2:53 am.

    Hi! I received the following email from Tricia, an artist in California, USA...

    I regularly (about once a week) plein air paint with Atelier acrylics. I live in a fairly dry and hot (sometimes over 100 degrees) climate. I have used the paint in two ways:

    1. I have the paint diluted with distilled water in film cans. It stays moist indefinitely and is always ready to pick up and take along. The paint is relatively pale and very liquid so the effect is one of watercolor.

    2. I use a paper plate for a palette. The paint is blobbed on the plate and I then squirt it with slow medium and mix. I keep a squirt bottle of distilled water to spray as needed and also take along some unlocking formula for use if the paint gets tacky. The effect is like oils, thick and blended. I throw away the plate at the end of a session...but have been told that the dry acrylic can be peeled off and the plate used again. I may try that next is always good to cut down on throw aways and also save a little money.

    Tricia Poulos Leonard

  5. comment_5_5533

    Jan Blencowe commented on June 5, 2008, at 3:48 am.

    I've used both traditional acrylics and Chroma Interactives for plein air painting. This spring and early summer I've found a number to things to be very helpful, when using the Interactives especially if it's hot or windy, which accelerates evaporation.

    1.) Wet a stack of paper towels (5-6) and squeeze your paints put onto this, then spray the blobs of paint with water. Mix on your palette.

    2.) Add some slow medium to your water and also to the water in your spray bottle

    3.) Set up in the shade (use an umbrella) and out of the wind if possible.

    4.) Coat your surface with binder medium first, let it dry, then paint. This keeps the surface from excessive absorbtion of paint.

    5.) Paint in the early morning or later in the day, keep out of mid-day sun and heat.

    6.) Keep the spray bottle handy and spray you paint often.

  6. comment_6_5533

    Jennifer commented on June 10, 2008, at 6:09 am.

    Thanks for the tips Jan! And great work! Tricia from CA sent me some plein air paintings to post for her, too.

  7. comment_7_5533

    Dan commented on June 23, 2008, at 10:37 am.

    Hi, my name is Daniel Perez, am new to this section of Plein Air Painting. I live in Tucson, AZ and for the pass week we been having record breaking heat, today it reach 112 degrees. I did paint a fast small painting during 4pm to test out the paints. The tips from Jan are helpful for Tucson style heat also. I carry my paints in a little cooler, but was too time consuming reaching in and taking one out. The paint would dry in 40sec. without being constantly spray with water. I found it helpful to do a fast light pencil sketch on the paper or canvas before I lay any paint down. That way I had the proportions set right. For my first try at plein air I think it is a decent painting, not as good as the others here. Will attempt more as the heat cools down

  8. comment_8_5533

    Dan commented on August 13, 2008, at 10:40 am.

    Apparently the last pic i try to post didn't appear, since then I have done another one in San Xavier Mission; the hill leading up to a cross on top of a small mountain. I still like working straight out of the tube at times if its too hot outside or spraying water numerous times. On both of them I did a light pencil sketch and then onto paint.

    For some reason I can't post the pictures up here, the latest one is up for viewing at
    Its not an attempt for people visit the site, I just can't post it here for some error.

    Image added by

    If you are having any trouble using the website send us an email and we will be happy to help.

  9. comment_9_5533

    Jennifer commented on August 15, 2008, at 3:17 am.

    Great painting Dan! I've been to the San Xavier Mission - what a fantastic, inspiring place. If you are new to plein air you are certainly off to a rolling start!
    Here's one of my pieces. You can read about my approach on Plein Air Painting with Interactive here on Paint Talk.