The near-finished painting together with the subject

An artist shares how he followed his muse and made his way into a rail yard to paint a burned out and abandoned train car en plein air. Disclaimer from Plein Air Today to our readers: When applicable, make sure you have permission to paint on location and that you are in a safe area before focusing on your painting.


From the train going north from Pisa I had already seen this burned out and abandoned train car several times before and had thought about trying to get an up-close look at it. I looked at the location on Google Maps and it didn’t look like it would be easy to reach, so I kind of procrastinated going in person, until recently.

I decided to give it a shot and took the bus to a nearby cemetery and got off one stop early. Then it was only a couple hundred meters by foot to reach the rail yard. It turned out to be a good decision to approach from that side, as all the active trains used the tracks on the opposite side, so I didn’t have to run across tracks that were in active use to get to my intended subject.

Door of one of the cars, with some of the yellow firefighter’s tape still hanging from it

There was a gate but only intended for cars, and I could just walk through a gap on the side. Just past the gate there was evidence that some homeless people also frequented this part of town.

I had gone on a Sunday, expecting nobody to be working on or around any of the trains or machinery, but a little too late I noticed that there were some workmen clearing weeds from the side of the tracks. They were pretty far away so I crossed the overgrown tracks anyway to get closer to the abandoned train car.

The debris-covered interior

I had a chance to look inside a burned out abandoned car. I thought that might make for a cool painting, the inside, but it was full of rubble and impossible to walk, let alone paint, in.

Next to this one there was a sort of loading bed type train car, with just a small crew cabin at each end. This afforded me the perfect elevation and cover to paint the burned out car from.

View from my painting spot

It was a bit cloudy, but luckily it didn’t rain in the end and the sun came through in the west a bit, creating a perfect spotlight on my subject while the background was still quite cloudy. I started as usual with a composition sketch and struggled a little bit with getting the perspective how I wanted it, and the subtle curvature of the sagging train cars threw me off a bit, but not too long afterward I started painting.

Framing I picked for the painting

During the painting process I struggled a bit with the background, which I couldn’t seem to get the right shade and gradation of grayish blue and wasn’t sure how dark I wanted it to be. Besides that the painting also lingered a bit longer than usual in the ugly phase, which I think was because of all the details and the myriad of shades and colors on the train car’s rusty roof and graffiti-covered sides.

After around three hours or so I decided to call it, as I was happy with how the train looked and there were only some less important details like the wires left, which I did at home.

The finished painting with some of the details finished at home

To what extremes have you gone to get that perfect scene you want to paint? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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  1. I think less and less painters in our days are going to plain airs. Many modern artist considers that tradition as an extreme. “Plain air” is like a forgotten cinderella.


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