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Old 07-04-2017, 08:29 AM
ntl ntl is offline
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How to start

Plein air and oils.
Why plein air? Fun? sales? learning? other?
Do you do preliminary sketches? Line, value, or both?
Do you use a viewfinder?
Thumbnails, or same size as your canvas?
Preferred size
Do you tone your support first and let it dry?
Do you apply medium to your support before starting to paint, or start on a dry canvas?
How much time do you average on a painting?
Do you go back to the same scene?

Last edited by ntl : 07-04-2017 at 08:33 AM.
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Old 07-04-2017, 12:25 PM
contumacious contumacious is online now
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Re: How to start

My responses to your post in blue.

Plein air and oils.

Why plein air? Fun? Definitely fun, but also exasperating sometimes.

...sales? It is a popular fad right now and people around here are buying plein air work, so a yes on that. I just enjoy painting but also like to sell my stuff, so fad or not I am going to jump at any chance to get my name and work out there.

...learning? I can see things from life that I cannot see in a photograph. I think it is invaluable to paint frequently from life, indoors or outside. I regret not doing it continuously since college.

...other? I like the challenge plus it is great to get out of the studio.

Do you do preliminary sketches? Line, value, or both? I usually do an actual size and accurate drawing with line and shading with 3 to 4 major values emphasized.

Do you use a viewfinder? I do when starting the drawing to frame the composition, but not as much once that is done.

Thumbnails, or same size as your canvas? Usually the same size as the panel. I won't start painting until the drawing looks the way I want the finished piece to look, shapes and lines wise. I then transfer the major shapes and lines VERY accurately with transfer paper to the panel. This saves me from having to draw it twice and making errors when laying it out on the panel.

Preferred size - 8x10, 9x12, 11x14, though I am going to start going significantly larger on some pieces with multiple trips to the same spot at the same time of day.

Do you tone your support first and let it dry? I bring already toned panels to choose from that are completely dry. If I feel the need for a tone that I don't have, I will tone it with a thin wash of paint, Galkyd and OMS and let it dry while doing my drawing on paper.

Do you apply medium to your support before starting to paint, or start on a dry canvas? I paint on gesso covered panels and usually work the main shapes in with a single dark color thinned with Galkyd and OMS which sort of acts like a couch.

How much time do you average on a painting? Too much. I need to learn to finish faster. Usually 7 hours or more. I would like to be able to produce a sell-able piece in 3-4 hours. Right now at 3 hours my stuff is not finished enough to put it up for sale.

Do you go back to the same scene? Yes. Sometimes to keep working on the same painting, sometimes to start a new one.
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Old 07-04-2017, 01:11 PM
ntl ntl is offline
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Re: How to start

Thanks for your response.
I posted this as I was going out to paint this morning. Some of my answers are the same as yours, except the sales part. I won't turn down a sale, but haven't gotten there yet!

I often do several line drawings, thumbnails and same size. So far, plein air is 8x10" or smaller. Am thinking about doing simple value studies, haven't yet.

I don't always use a view finder, but I do measure if I don't.

For the 8x10's I have a toned support, for the smaller pieces, not often.
and I either oil out or will block in then paint. Depends on subject, I suppose.

A session for me is about 2-3 hours which can include set-up and take down. I usually paint 2+ hours.

I do go back to the same scent, either to finish, or later for another painting.
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Old 07-15-2017, 11:54 PM
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WTPDOSA WTPDOSA is offline
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Re: How to start

Great questions!
I love plein air because I love being outdoors. On occasion I have sold a piece, but I mostly enjoy the learning experience.
The only sketch I do is with thinned paint on the canvas. I use hash marks to define values, and I do not use a view finder. My preferred sizes range from 8x10 to 12x14. I use two different supports, gessoed board for knife paintings and canvas for brush work. I rarely tone my supports.
On the average, I try to stick to two hours or less total time. I feel it keeps me more loose and less detail oriented.
I most always finish my painting in one session on sight, and very rarely do anything at home. I do sometimes like to go back at a different time to see the lighting and shadow differences.
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“The only way the artist can appeal to humanity is in the guise of the high priest. He must show people more-more than they already see-and he must show them with so much human sympathy and understanding that they will recognize it as if they themselves had seen the beauty and the glory.” ~ Charles Hawthorn
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Old 07-19-2017, 10:35 AM
bartc bartc is offline
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Re: How to start

Your questions are the ones many studio oil painters ask when contemplating outdoors. I'll bet you'll get a ton of different answers.

I paint outdoors almost exclusively. Painting from life, alla prima (one shot mostly) is my preference. While I have done oils out there, I don't like oils, though many of my companions do fine in oil en plein air. I do not repaint my stuff once done.

Our group goes out for 3 hour jaunts. The obvious challenges are the changing light conditions and the moisture/sunlight, which you have to learn to deal with. In acrylics I usually finish a painting in about 1.5 hours, half an hour or so for a watercolor or other medium. So it's possible to do 2 or more works in that time frame. Some of my companions struggle with that and finish at home later; others can do 2 paintings in oil in that time. As you can see, it's idiosyncratic.

I don't sell my work, it's purely for pleasure and learning. Several of our group do sell and sell these paintings very well! In fact, one is notorious for being accosted by passersby and selling right off his easel, and his work is that good.

I draw on the paper or the canvas directly with a pencil sketch loosely first, then a paint sketch, then blocking, then the finishing. These days I've found it very convenient and useful to draw on the panel directly and block it with a few acrylic markers to get started fast and lock in the values and composition. That has been enormously helpful to me.

I do not use prepainted grounds in acrylics, but do sometimes in watercolor or other water media. Underpainting is part of my process in situ.

Again, we all differ. Many of my companions sketch on small paper first, then paint from the value diagram.

The joy of painting outdoors is: being there in the first place, really observing and absorbing the scene, finishing in one sitting if you want that and having it look fresh and stimulating. You do it your way, whatever that may be, and don't concern yourself with what others do.

Last edited by bartc : 07-19-2017 at 10:38 AM.
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Old 07-20-2017, 12:02 AM
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pprender pprender is online now
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Re: How to start

I paint with pastels but much of my plein air routine is not specific to pastels.
First, I do it because I enjoy the feeling of being totally concentrated on what I'm doing. For me, it is very much like a meditation.

The night before I go, I tape my paper - right now I'm using 8x10 - to a board and make small tick marks to section it into quarters. Then, in my very small sketch pad, I draw a small proportional rectangle that I also section into quarters.

I have all my gear in a backpack except for my little viewfinder. I want to have that on hand so I can select my subject area before I take my pack off. It saves having to keep moving it around. It takes me a long time to select my subject because there is a little voice in my head that keeps saying "that's too hard, you don't know how to paint that." So I have to keep telling that voice to shut up.

I look for a subject that has a good portion of darks and a nice combination of shapes.

Then I set up and take a picture with my iphone. I import the picture into the ValueViewer app which allows me to see the photo with an overlayed grid (quarters) and in gray scale. I do a quick thumbnail looking at the phone and the actual scene.

I use a pastel pencil to draw out my main lines and then block in my darks and lights - repeating to myself "shapes, not things."

I spend about 1 1/2 hours, but usually work on the painting back in the studio.
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Old 07-20-2017, 09:51 PM
bartc bartc is offline
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Re: How to start

BTW, I do not use a viewfinder. Tried it and didn't find it improved anything in the experience. However, that doesn't mean that I don't have to work at my composition like everyone else.

What I do is, if paper for watercolor I line off a border (for framing) and around that border I notch off thirds in both dimensions. That gives me a starting point for placing my elements in the composition. I do something similar on a panel in acrylics, but I do not make a grid in either.

As an experiment recently I used a free grid/view app on my phone with a photo, posterized and rendered in black and white. That did work very well for copying a photo, which is something you can do en plein air just as easily. This kind of a process is highly useful if you are obsessed with copying the details of a scene.

As it happens I am not so interested in copying the details or what I view exactly at all. I'm painting an impression and often manipulating the pictorial elements to my desire. So the viewfinder thing isn't really my thing.

YMMV, of course!

I have gone back to the same scene, but prefer to paint it differently or a different part of the scene from the same general location. If you prefer to work and rework a painting, you can always do a Monet and go back and paint it repeatedly in different light with different palettes. Neither is "correct"; it's whatever you like to do. (Well, I would love to be Monet, but he's already taken.... LOL)
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