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  • Writer's pictureNicole

My First Experience with Plein Air Painting

Recently, I’ve been intrigued by plein air painting—creating art/landscapes directly from life. This interest has grown over the past few weeks, culminating in a promise to myself: I would try plein air painting this past weekend. So, on Sunday, equipped with my acrylics, I set out to paint.


I selected a location near my home that met my criteria—a water element (a creek) and a secluded spot where I could paint undisturbed. Upon arrival, I faced my first obstacle: a missing part on one of my easel’s legs. Despite the initial setback, I decided to persevere. After some improvisation, I managed to stabilize the easel. This was my first taste of the unpredictability of plein air painting.


An easel set up on a snowy bank of a stream

The weather was also far from ideal—it was bitterly cold and windy. As I set up my easel, the frosty air bit at my fingertips. The ground was a slushy mess from the previous day’s snowfall. I questioned whether I could endure these conditions, but the anticipation of painting outdoors fueled my determination.


Before setting out, I had deliberated over the choice of medium. While oils are traditionally used in plein air painting, I initially opted for acrylics, considering them less demanding. I believed acrylics would be more forgiving, allowing me to easily paint over any mistakes. However, I soon discovered that the aesthetic demanded by plein air—the soft transitions and luminous hues—was challenging to achieve with acrylics. For my next session, I plan to experiment with water-based oils, aiming for a balance between the desired oil painting look and a manageable experience.


Composition is crucial in plein air painting. I hadn’t thought I needed a viewcatcher—a tool that aids in framing scenes—but my struggles with manually framing the scene made me realize its importance. In a pinch, I used my phone to capture the landscape and sketched from the photo. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. For future sessions, investing in a proper viewcatcher is on my list.


Painting outdoors proved to be a unique experience. The sun’s game of hide-and-seek cast shifting shadows, and the biting wind added another layer of challenge. Amidst this unpredictability, I felt invigorated—there was no studio control, just raw nature.


Person in the woods posing with a finished painting on an easel

My first plein air piece was far from a masterpiece, but that didn’t diminish my sense of achievement. Despite the frost-nipped fingers, I left with a burning desire to try again. The photo I took during the session now serves as inspiration for my next creation. Having experienced the scene firsthand, I feel better equipped to interpret it.


I’ve committed to plein air painting once a week. Each session will undoubtedly present its own challenges, but the prospect of a deeper connection to my subject material excites me.


Plein air painting isn’t about achieving perfection; it’s about embracing and learning from imperfections. Who knows what masterpieces await in the great outdoors?

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