How to Ease Your Way into Plein Air Painting

Published Mar. 11th 2013

Say the words “plein air painting” and I get a bit scared.

It’s not that I don’t love being in nature. . . I do, most certainly. But when it comes to painting outside, with the intention of painting what I see, well, I get so overloaded with “information” that I just freeze up.

And yet, I’m not one to quit easily! So I’m doing everything I can to inch my way into plein air very, very gently. I hope that others who likewise struggle may find the following “baby steps” approach encouraging.

You see, I got the notion one afternoon this past week to try some plein air painting close to home. I’m talking VERY close to home – just a few paces out my front door. I took a little succulent plant off my rod iron plant stand, placed it on the sidewalk, and plopped myself down on the ground with my pochade box.

I proceeded to paint a simple composition, and in doing so, controlled exactly how much information I took in while painting “en plein air!”

Here are some pictures of my process. . . As you can see, my succulent plant was dramatically backlit by the sun. If I’d have known better, I would have waited later in the day to paint, until the sun was less intense. I guess these are the types of things one learns by painting in the elements.


I only brought my pochade box with two (warm/cool) yellows, reds and blues. And white of course, since I paint with gouache. My painting support was a sealed and primed piece of cardboard, with lots of texture.


I toned my board with red-orange which, I think, worked really well for this particular piece. The gouache dried so quickly that I could paint over it immediately.


Mid-progress, here’s what my “plein air” painting looked like:


Truth be told, by this point I had to get out of the heat—I was sizzling!—so the rest of the painting was finished up inside. But I’m still counting it as a success! Some may consider this painting a still life, but for this painter, it was my grand entry into the world of plein air.

And guess what? With a little success behind me, now I can’t wait to try more. One little baby step at a time. :)


To read more from Joanie, or to view her art, visit

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