Cindy Baron, “Colorado Golden,” oil, 8 x 10 in., Plein air

On painting outdoors > Artist Cindy Baron shares how and why she chooses which medium to use at plein air events. Note: Like you, Cindy is a lover of landscapes. She has known her entire life that she wanted to capture the stunning beauty of landscapes on canvas. Now, she has created an outstanding video, “Elegant Landscapes,” where she shares her secrets with you! Learn more here.

Painting Outdoors with Watercolor AND/OR Oil

By Cindy Baron

Being a dual artist working in both watercolors and oils, I would like to share with you how and why I choose which medium to paint in when it comes to plein air events. There are travel pros and cons with both, but it takes a lot of thought and planning and eventually the landscape will decide my palette for me. I love to work in both mediums so it is hard to pick a favorite; they are both like my children, each needing special attention. I have worked in watercolors for 30 plus years and oils about 15 years, but I started my career in pastels. Working in all these mediums has given me miles of experimenting, joy, frustration, and knowledge, which I hope to share with you all.

Cindy Baron, “Miles to Go,” watercolor, 8 x 16 in., Painted en plein air for Laguna Plein Air Invitational, and won a watercolor award

Traveling and Painting with Watercolor

When it comes to travel, especially international, watercolors are the easiest. Mainly because of water, it’s easy not to worry about finding solvents when you cross the ocean. There is a convenience of paper, paint tube size and if need be, you can turn your lap or the ground into an easel. Less gear is needed when you travel with watercolors. Also, my painting techniques and style allow me to be more experimental and spontaneous when it comes to painting nature. I love to layer colors, work wet into wet and make each color work naturally as nature intended.

Cindy Baron, “Rhode Island,” 8 x 12 in., oil painted for “Where In The World Is”

A Benefit of Using Oil for Outdoor Painting Events

Then there are times when painting nature just calls for using oils. When I go to the mountains I love to take the oils because I have so much freedom to work the medium, wipe off, and start again. It’s so important to get the atmosphere and design just right to get studio piece references to go by. In competitions, oils have been easier for the simple reason of touch-up and time restrictions.

Other Medium Considerations for Painting Outdoors

Another thought when I choose a medium in painting the landscape, is climate. Some vistas need the vibrant richness that oils can portray. I have painted with both mediums in the Grand Canyon, I love to draw and so watercolors and my blending techniques make it a perfect fit. My watercolor palette of reds makes it exciting and I actually do a little happy dance.

In the Tetons, I have taken all three of my mediums. I took my pastels in the winter, which allowed me to use them in the car when it was way too cold outside to paint. I prefer oils when I go to the mountains mainly because of the atmosphere, which is more arid and the altitude makes the watercolors dry way too fast for my style. I have painted California with both mediums, when competing in LPAPA I chose watercolors, mainly because of drawing and the colors of the coastal atmosphere are conducive for my palette, also, the time restriction for producing a finished painting aids in my decision. This is not to say you cannot do the medium of your choice wherever you decide to paint, just be moved by your choice and have fun.

So I have given you a lot to think about if you too paint in several mediums. I feel passionate about both. When I see a beautifully done watercolor in a museum or gallery, I can’t wait to go back to my studio and pick up the brush and paint. The same holds true for oils. Oils have a richness and vibrancy that make you sit in front of an easel forever.

Cindy Baron, “Water Dance Study,” oil, Plein air
Cindy Baron, “Water Dance,” watercolor, 26 x 18 in., Studio

My love for both mediums can be a juggling job too. It would be great to take both on trips and sometimes I have, but to give your full attention to an area in one medium is best, as this allows you to do larger studio pieces for galleries later. My watercolors have become oil paintings and the reverse has been done too with oils.

Editor’s Note: With Cindy’s video workshop “Elegant Landscapes,” you’ll learn how to “see” in a whole new way and you’ll learn the techniques to transfer it to the canvas to create an unforgettable painting.

Do you have a preference of watercolor or oil? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

About the author: Cindy Baron is nationally known in both watercolors and oils, painting the grand landscapes of the west and coastal shorelines. Born and raised in Indiana, she has had the experience of living all over the country and now resides in Rhode Island, where she is a full-time artist and instructor.

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  1. I read Cindy Baron’s article with interest, because I am taking eight artists to Oregon in September, and have decided watercolors will do the job very well! Thanks for the beautiful images and examples of both media. I also have had good luck with acrylics, until my easel began to sink in the sand one morning on the coast. Fond memories!

  2. Great article.
    I too paint in oils and watercolor. When I look at a scene, or think about what I want to paint, I often think, gosh, that’d make a great watercolor…or that’d make for a nice oil painting. Subject matter will often dictate which medium to use. I love the textural qualities of oil paints and the transparent and spontaneous qualities of water color. Since I live in the southwest, what hampers my watercolors are delayed drying times when the humidity is high which will often dictate that I go to my oils.
    If space is not a problem I will take both oil and watercolor kits for the flexibility. If space is limited, like when I’m traveling by motorcycle, watercolors are my goto choice.

  3. I do oil, watercolor and acrylics. Watercolor is more spontaneous, faster because it dries so quickly, especially outdoors. Oil and acrylics are much more forgiving and perhaps more suitable for studio work. Yes, the grand, French painters used oil but John Singer Sargent used watercolor. Think of it this way if compared to photography; Oil is silver gelatin and watercolor is instant film or polaroid.

  4. For plein air I’ve worked in both oil or watercolor – sometimes I do take both out with me, usually because when I get to a location I get inspired to use a particular medium. Watercolor is so portable, and I like touching it up with colored pencil. I’ve used oil paint my entire life, so for me, sometimes comfort with my abilities in the medium outweighs using watercolors- but then I can try it at home post outdoor oil study.


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