20 things I learned from 30 Days of Plein air painting

Plein air painting with my dog
Plein air painting with my dog

I just completed the Strada easel 30 day plein air painting challenge. I did 30 small paintings, one each day and posted them on FB in order to have a chance to win a Strada Easel.

Of course the real reason I did it was to be able to do a small painting every day to help re-build a level of morning consistency into my studio practice.  I paint most days but often don’t get to the easel until 1 or 2 pm. I wanted to flip my schedule and do the painting first thing in the morning. Here’s 30 things I learned doing this challenge.

  1. Plein Air painting involves bugs. All kinds of bugs. Flies, bees, ants, mosquitos and funny looking gangly black flying things. Did I say flies?! Did I say mosquitos?! Yes, even in the desert.
  2. Even with a “do not forget to take list” I sometimes forget something.
  3. When you drop your panel or brushes in the sand, you will have sand in everything by the end of the morning. No. Matter. What.
  4. Your big light effect will only last about 30 seconds (sometimes 15),and then it will be gone. You need a good memory.
  5. Work in progress on Yarka easel with shelf palette box setup
    Work in progress on Yarka easel with shelf palette box setup

    It’s a good idea to clean your palette and brushes as soon as you get back. Otherwise – you. will. forget.

  6. Setting the palette the night before helps you get out to the field faster in the morning. This can be done on a flat palette, but I used a cigar box palette with shelves for this challenge. I used a palette with premixed strings of color (I’ll post more about this later). It helps you get the values and saturation right and it saves you mixing time.
  7. After a month the hinges on your palette box give out and need to be replaced with more substantial ones.
  8. Because I preset my palette and could use it from day to day, it helped to put it in the freezer. I don’t normally put my paint in the freezer since I’ve read that it’s bad for the paint, but it does keep it fresh longer.
  9. My dog likes me better now. He relaxed at my side looking at everything in the arroyo for each day of the challenge. Now if I pick up my plein air bag, he gets really excited.
  10. Greens are hard. I need to and want to experiment more with different ways of mixing greens, like using black with yellows.
  11. It’s important to be as comfy as possible. Using a stool helps you hunker down in the shade of a bush. It also saves your feet.
  12. Schuster and me in the desert arroyo
    Schuster and me in the desert arroyo

    The clamp on my plein air umbrella doesn’t really clamp very well on my cigar pochade box (or the tripod for that matter). It worked better on the Yarka, but I still don’t have the hang of it. After a few days I pretty much gave up using it if I didn’t have to.

  13. Even a few extra ounces can feel too heavy if you walk very far.
  14. No matter how cool it is on a September morning in the high desert, by 10:00 am you will begin to get sunburnt.
  15. Don’t forget your phone or a camera to get pics of the set-up and references for later.
  16. If you take your phone, put it on airplane mode so you don’t get a call just when you’re in the flow. (Good practice for the studio as well.)
  17. It’s good to find a location you want to paint the day before you want to paint it so as not to wast time. It’s also good to have an alternate choice in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. We love rain. I’m not complaining.
  18. Having everything in your bag and organized the night before helps.
  19. Doing a painting challenge with other people makes painting everyday more enjoyable. You can see what others are doing and it helps in keeping you motivated.
  20. I did manage to flip my painting schedule and now start most days painting instead of deferring it to the afternoon, so I have accomplished my goal. Now if I can keep it going. I didn’t win an easel, but even so I learned a lot and accomplished my goals.

You can check out Bryan Mark Taylor’s video, The Master’s Mind, in which he talks about how to obtain mastery by applying focussed practice, and see the easels at his Strada easel page.


4 Replies to “20 things I learned from 30 Days of Plein air painting”

  1. Julie ford oliver says:

    I really enjoyed reading these. Number 9 is my fav. I relate!
    Can’t wait to get a close-up view of your daily masterpieces and see the changes from the one to 30. Looking forward to the opening of your solo show on Friday.

    1. Thanks, Julie. I’m glad you got something from them. #9 is my favorite too. He really does get so excited. He starts wiggling all over and tail starts going really fast. And the expectant look on his face is to die for. Looking forward to the opening and to seeing you there.

  2. Deborah Braswell says:

    My knowledge of painting is very limited, but, I really enjoyed seeing your daily work. You obviously inherited awesome talent from your Mothers side of the family. I will never forget all the wonderful paintings that covered the walls of Aunt Merle’s home, no matter where you lived at the time, Be it Santa Fe or Lake Worth, I loved looking at those paintings. Thank you so much for sharing this experience. It was fun. I remember again how much I really love my cousin, how talented, interesting and fun you are to spend time with, and, I really like your dog. I love you, long lost cousin. God bless.

    1. Awww. What a wonderful thing to say. Love you too, Cuz. Glad you enjoyed the work. Seems I’ve inheirited many of those paintings from my grandmother. Then being married to a photographer and being an artist myself, our walls are chock a block! Thanks so much.

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