Plein Air Today reader JoAnn Rohde
Plein Air Today reader JoAnn Rohde

We want YOUR advice ~ a Plein Air Today reader recently shared that she found painting on location at workshops to be too physically demanding. How would you encourage her? What tips or tricks have you discovered to make plein air painting more accessible?

Letter to the Editor:

“After 7 years of painting from photos in my studio, I decided to try plein air painting. After a couple of ventures out, I realized that acrylics were not going to work so I dived into painting with oil. My husband gave me a gift of a plein air workshop in Maine. I bought lightweight equipment but found the whole experience too physically demanding. It was more like an outward-bound program. I’d recommend that those giving workshops speak more about the physical requirements needed to participate. After this experience, I’m having second thoughts about plein air painting.” ~ JoAnn Rohde

Our first recommendation would be to check with the workshop organizer if there is any question about whether the location will be accessible enough based on your needs. There’s a wide variety of art workshops taking place across the country, and if you’re unable to find one that’s right for you, consider reaching out to the nearest arts organization and asking them to plan one (“Build it and they will come!”)

Aside from that, we encourage everyone to consider plein air painting in any capacity, as it’s something that you can even practice from your own home. I once painted from my front porch, and I see many artists doing this. If you’re using colored pencils or watercolor, you can carry a small travel set, which you can take anywhere and pull out at any time.

We reached out to the Plein Air Today community on Facebook, and the following are some of their answers. One reader even shared a blog from on “Painting from a Wheelchair.” We hope this helps!

From the Community: How to Make Plein Air Painting Accessible

  • Limit the number of paint tubes, set up your palette before you leave every morning and pack LIGHT. Just a few brushes, etc.
  • “Paint small – 8 x 10 up to 12 x 16 inches max. You can learn everything you need to know at those sizes. I’m always telling my students this and I invariably have one student who ignores the advice but switches by the end of the week.” ~ Thomas Kitts*
  • “There will come a day when our physical bodies can’t keep up with our dreams, to each and every one of us. Nothing beats the company of fellow artists, but stay tuned up with drawing at home, any and everything, even quick sketches from the television. Keep those parts of your brain that give you the satisfaction and joy of creating awake and exercised. Consider a watercolor pochade, minimize all your supplies, and even consider travel sketching with ink washes. Use your wonderful artist brain that you have developed to see the beauty and paintable joys in front of you, and take the opportunity to paint en plein air when the opportunity presents itself.” ~ Cecelia Poole
  • Try painting in your backyard or garden if you have one.
  • “It is physically demanding. Can’t deny that. Advice:
    1. Physical conditioning to stay in shape.
    2. Lessen the weight you carry by getting lightweight equipment
    3. Try gouache. Less to carry and you are done more quickly.
    4. Carry snacks and water. Stay hydrated.
    5. Just sit and sketch sometimes.” ~Anne Pfeiffer
  • Bring a chair and wheel your gear instead of carrying it.
  • “The first time I participated in a plein air event, I painted from my little van, sitting in the back open doors. It was a cold day and it worked very well!” ~ Janet Hinton

Thomas Kitts is also a featured instructor at – check out his video art workshops here!

Do you have anything to add to this list for new plein air painters? Share it with us in the comments section below!


  1. From one reader’s response, sent via email:
    “Painting plein air with disabilities is very possible. Having spent many years in wheelchairs I learned to adapt the brushes to limited hand movements, the smaller oil tubes were light to carry and took only enough mediums for the pieces at hand. Often I would have my granddaughters roll me out to location then they occupied themselves on their cell phones while grandpa painted. Bungee cords to tie down the legs worked well on those days when movement was very limited.
    All of this while making a living at my art. It is possible.
    As we live nearby paved running and biking trails I would often start out on my own and end up being pushed to my destination by neighbors or random runners. The small metal easels can be tied to the wheelchair for stability in the wind.
    Am currently in the process of buying a large wheelchair van that can accommodate several people to be used specifically for taking disabled artists out painting in the Rockies. Most disability is in your life concept not in your body. Anybody can paint. I did so for months after spinal surgery when I only had movement of one arm/hand. The hospital staff would roll the traction bed to the atrium for me.”
    ~ Richard Dixon

  2. Hooray for encouraging each other! When painting was not possible I discovered I still paint on an imaginary canvas. Starting back outside was in comfortable increments, packing up before I was tired. Keep on keeping on! Beverley

  3. This is for the plein air painter who runs out of energy.
    Like me! Paint only a half day. In the East I like the mornings-
    in the West I like the afternoons. Yes bring a small stool or chair, snacks, gator aide for a pick me up, lunch, water, and all the other helpful hints previously given. ‘Also if I am with a
    group, we discuss the morning endeavors and gain insights.
    After I paint in the morning I sit and eat my lunch among the trees, marsh, or ocean==very calming.

    It is very relaxing and I can reflect on nature and my work

  4. Balance problems, old injuries, having to pee every five minutes—there are lots of reasons why Plein Air painting becomes prohibitive as you age. If on occasion, I feel the need to become a Plein Air painter, I paint scenes from around the house, look out my window, or sit just outside the door to my house. But what has helped me most is to realize that Plein Air painting was not necessarily superior to studio painting—like I had to do it or consider myself to be lesser as an artist! As you age, there are lots of things you can no longer do as you once did. But new doors open if you just look for them and remain open to life in its myriad of opportunities.

  5. Just finished a workshop with Albert Handell. One reason I picked this (aside from Albert being a master’s master at pastels) is he is 86. And as he announced the first day “I’m 86. I don’t drive more than 20 minutes and don’t hike.” Just what this 80 year old needed to hear. The workshop was fantastic, he indeed did not hike us into any place and we were able to paint close to our cars, and lots of hands on help. But what I didn’t count on was Santa Fe altitude. It never bothered me when I was young. This time I couldn’t breath and, upon returning home to the San Francisco sea level Bay Area, I checked into ER and they promptly slung me into the hospital, not for breathing which cleared up as soon as I hit sea level but for heart damage. So I still want to do plein air – and did engage in it last week at Rockaway, a coastal cove, but have to restrict all such workshop and events to sea level. I have a handy cane that converts into a chair and I can take short walks down to the local Short park and just draw if nothing else. Or set up on my deck and paint the ocean or my yard or my neighbor’s yard. Doesn’t have to be a long time – 30 minutes, an hour, 4 hours. Just being out in the fresh air and sunshine (when we have sunshine – coast you know) helps not only my enjoyment of painting but my physical and mental health as well.

    • Hello Reba…I felt a real kinship with you over your episode in Santa Fe! I went there a long time ago Just to check it out and mostly I just fainted all over the place. I had NO idea altitude would be such a problem! I must give a shout of gratitude out to the Native Americans in the Plaza…so many of them caught me as I was blanking out. Like you I plan on staying at sea level to 5,000 ft above that I pass out and it’s hard to paint when you’re unconscious 🙂 I have heard that if you stay at a higher altitude for a week or so you get used to it. I’d be willing to try…

  6. Ah JoAnn I truly understand. My brain says I’m 26, the rest of me does not agree! I used to go deep into the woods to paint but almost always have a bear or two get nosey plus I have 2 knee replacements that are ok but not perfect and I’m riddled with arthritis. So I spent last year rethinking my painting focus. The motto “keep it simple” has made a huge difference. I keep my gear simple, lightweight, easy to set up and enjoy once a week going for a ride just to find subjects. I usually do the ride arounds on cloudy, not good painting days. Then go back when it’s nicer and all the subjects are relatively close to the car so no big hiking involved. Plus the car often holds all the paint gear so I don’t have to haul it all over the place. The best thing about all this is it has opened me up to lots of new kinds of painting subjects. The highlight of my year was I went to the June Plein Air in the Adirondacks. I was nervous about it because I can’t scamper around. But it is so well planned they take into account people like myself and have it structured so everyone has a chance to paint in beautiful spots, many are very easy to get to. I loved that week and all the other painters so much. I read thru the other comments and there are so many good ideas people have offered. Hope all our comments help and happy painting!

  7. Two ladies I heard of, not close friends, one is in Edinburgh Scotland and the other is near Sidney Australia. They take it in turns to paint a view near home, with a video camera next to their easel. The other paints the same view in real time from home over the Internet. (During the small hours) They knatter the whole time. They switch roles a few weeks later. Makes for interesting entries in exhibitions.

  8. I think many artists of all ages find workshops exhausting!! It is usually just too much for the brain and body- perhaps look to see if you have a local group that plein air paints and try to join them for local events. In our group everyone has their own limit for how far to drag supplies, how long to stand and or sit, how long to work on a painting, – but its nice to work outside and be with others and worth trying to find the right balance for your life. We also have a local Urban Sketching group and that is usually much easier as we bring a lot less and dont worry about “finished” work- we work in journals and any mediums are acceptable to use- Check for chapters in your area. Dont give up- Im sure there is a way for you to enjoy doing art in a variety of locations.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here