6 Reasons Field Studies Are Priceless - OutdoorPainter.com
My collection of more than 1000 studies, most done en plein air. The remainder are studio-created studies for larger works.

From illustrator to fine art painter since 1982, John Pototschnik shares his advice on the importance of field studies, which he says have “a value greater than any monetary reward.”

Creating paintings en plein air has been an important part of my fine art career, which began in 1982. I had just left behind a 10-year freelance illustrator career in pursuit of this new dream. While strongly attracted to the landscape, many of my first paintings, I was told, looked like illustrations. It was Tony Eubanks, also a former illustrator, who suggested I start painting on location. He said that would erase the illustrator in me pretty quickly. He was correct.

Initially I created all my plein air paintings to be sold. Eventually I realized they had a value greater than any monetary reward. They were now viewed as “field studies,” with the emphasis on “studies.” I began working on 5.5″ x 8.5″ sheets of acid-free paper. They were crude and full of notes at first. Later they followed prescribed formats and were filed in notebooks…100 paintings per book.

6 Reasons Field Studies Are Priceless - OutdoorPainter.com
“After a Brief Shower” (field study), oil, 4.5 x 4.5 in.
6 Reasons Field Studies Are Priceless - OutdoorPainter.com
“After a Brief Shower” oil, 36 x 36 in.

6 Reasons It’s Important for Landscape Painters to Do Field Studies

1) They are a perpetual record of where you’ve been, what you’ve directly observed, and what can always be referenced when needed. They also help recall the moment it was painted and all the circumstances involved.

2) Direct observation becomes more deeply ingrained and remembered.

3) They create a deeper learning experience because more time is spent observing and attempting to faithfully represent the subject.

4) Compared to working from photos, more senses are involved; not only sight, but also sound, smell, and touch. Even with improved photo technology, the eyes still are able to discern subtleties that the camera cannot.

5) They provide a direct interaction with the subject; it’s like speaking to someone face-to-face versus reading something someone else wrote about them.

6) Finally, their most important value to me is that accurate value, contrast, color, and color temperature can be captured and internally retained. Without that as an important objective, I see little value in them. With no interest in such things, one’s objectives as a landscape painter would be totally different than mine.

How do you make the most of your field studies? Share with us in the comments below.


How to paint with a limited paletteNever has there been an instructional video or book that teaches a color system that is so effective that it can completely change the way you paint. You can create any mood, harmony, or flow in your artwork by using John’s color system.

The best part is that you can do all of this with just 3 colors + white. Even though you’ll be working with a limited palette, you’ll be painting with unlimited color. LEARN MORE ABOUT PAINTING WITH A LIMITED PALETTE WITH THIS SPECIAL OFFER.

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  1. Wonderful information. I’ve been Plein Air-ing for about 10 years now. How I wish I had some of this knowledge when I first started out. I basicly started out by loading up with every color invented, got a hugs bag to throw it all in and stepped out the front door. By the time I got home, I realized that I need to lighten my load! Was having tons of fun but having difficulty focusing on what mattered. Chasing the light was fun but managed to get something close to what I was after but “not there yet”. I would go back each day at the same time to catch the same light and that did help but “Not there Yet”. Then I learned to make notes of where the dark’s were before before I moved on to other areas of the scene. And sooo much more. Looking forward to what John has to offer and connecting with new Plein Air Painters. Cheers Norm

    • Norm, Thanks for writing. The learning never ends, that’s the beauty of what we do. Simplify the kit you take on location. Get rid of absolutely everything you don’t need. Limit your palette. Set the shadow patterns first thing when painting on-site. Do not chase the light.

  2. Hi John,
    I agree about the value of doing field studies.
    Have you ever had the experience of your field study being better than the indoor studio painting? I sometimes end up preferring my field study over my final painting since the final ones can sometimes lose spontaneity.
    If that happens to you, do you adhere and frame your field studies?

    • Simonne, It’s a great question, and something that every artist deals with. So, I will ramble on and share with you some thoughts on the subject.

      1) The size of the “study” is an important consideration. If one is working very small, as I generally do on location, then it’s best not even to attempt to mimic the study, for it will be impossible. The study remains a study, a means of gathering information, nailing down accurate value and color relationships and composition considerations; the larger studio version is a separate painting unto itself where information gathered from the study is used as reference.

      2) The major reasons we lose the spontaneity of the study is a) We use smaller brushes. b) What can be indicated with one simple stroke on a study is virtually impossible to mimic on a larger work. Larger works require more explanation in each area of the painting. I’m not saying more detail necessarily, but more consideration…color, color temperature, value, and texture. c) Studies are most often time restricted, they are done more quickly.

      3) I suppose the best ways to overcome the spontaneity issues are: a) Use much larger brushes. b) Limited the time spent on the larger work by working at the same pace as you did the study. Easy to say, difficult to do. I am totally unsuccessful in my attempts as I like a particular degree of finish to all my larger works.

      Very seldom do I frame my studies and offer them for sale. They are my field notes and critically important to my work. Periodically, I offer an unframed piece to my newsletter subscribers. I hope this long explanation helps.

      • Another thing that will help with spontaneity, Simonne, is to mix large amounts of the major colors of your study prior to beginning work on the larger painting. This will allow you to spend less time mixing and enable you to maintain a more rapid painting pace.

  3. A favorite quote : “The sketch hunter moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them ,and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook” Robert Henri / The Art Spirit

  4. I too love to do small studies outdoors with my limited palette.
    But I work on small canvas panels.
    What acid free paper do you use? Is it Bristol board or heavy watercolor paper?
    Do you prime it with Gesso…both sides?

  5. I am actually in love with ‘field studies’ in of their own value…especially for educational/experiential goals.
    I am grateful to find your “reasons”….there is WAY too much emphasis on selling work (as the only goal of this activity) to the detriment of inviting folks into the field of examining life and indulging their curiosity through observational studies!
    Thank you for this breath of fresh air!!!!


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