Plein Air Made Simple!

High Bridge

View from High Bridge Train Station Steps, plein air pastel, 9x12 in.

Plein air sketching does not have to be a complex process. There are many plein air artists who opt for all the gear: field easel or pochade box, full set of oil paints and mediums (or whatever medium they prefer), umbrellas, and other gadgets supposedly required for the plein air experience.

I find that simpler is better! Pastel is my medium of choice for plein air sketching, followed by acrylics. When I sketch plein air in pastel, all I bring with me are about 15-20 hard and soft pastels in a range of colors/values that I can combine to effectively depict light and shadow. I pre-cut my paper (usually PastelMat, Wallis or LaCarte) down to either 9×12 in. or 6×9 in. size, I don’t work larger than 9×12 for plein air. I tape the paper to the back of an old canvas panel, throw all of the above in my car and am ready to go.

While in my studio I always work standing, when I’m sketching in the field (usually in town) I will often sit in a cafe or on a bench. I start out by blocking in my values with a hard pastel (NuPastel #353 is perfect for this). Then I work from dark to light mapping in colors and combining layers to create a harmonious balance of variation in light and shadow.

Because I love perspective, I typically look for town settings that have a strong, one-point perspective view to create a composition that draws the viewer into the painting. Telephone poles, wires, street lamps, trees and other vertical elements are perfect for this purpose. Morning light and late afternoon sun are my favorite times to sketch outdoors.

So if you haven’t tried plein air because you think you have to invest in a whole “kit”, think again. It’s not as complicated as it appears!

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