Painting outdoors - watercolor
Larry Cannon, “Valley Sunset,” watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 in.

On Painting Outdoors > One of the beautiful things about art is that if we pay attention, we can apply what we learn to almost any area of our life, and vice versa. Such is the case with the following advice that plein air artist Larry Cannon shares about failure, success, and the awe that is nature.

Larry Cannon, “South Laguna View,” watercolor, 10 x 14 in., Plein air. “I painted this during the Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational,” Cannon says. “I was one of thirty-five invited artists (the only watercolorist). I was incredibly nervous because all of the others were nationally renowned. But, in the week-long event, I painted four of the best paintings that I have ever done, and perhaps learned more than I ever have in any single week. My painting style and confidence made a major leap in that week.”

Advice in a Minute: Two Tips for Artists from Larry Cannon

1. You will learn far more from your failures than you will from your successes. You will always remember the mistakes, while sometimes you will have no idea how to repeat the successes. Look at any great artist in history. Only about 10 percent of their paintings rise to the exceptional level. You shouldn’t expect every painting to be frameable. You are probably not going to be in the art history books, so relax, learn, and follow your passion. An honest interpretation of what you see is far better than a copy of some other artist’s style. At any point in your progress, you are truly only at the beginning of your learning curve.

2. Learn to look, look to learn. Your painting will always look inadequate when placed in front of your subject. It will only sing when viewed away from direct comparison with Nature’s magnificence.

Larry Cannon, “The Devil’s Cauldron,” watercolor, 10 x 14 in., Plein air

Cannon goes on to tell us more about his work, and how he has seen the truth of #1 first-hand when painting outdoors: “I painted ‘The Devil’s Cauldron’ (above) several years ago during the Carmel Art Festival,” he says. “The backstory is that I set up out at the tip of the Point Lobos Wilderness Reserve, south of Carmel, in a location that I thought would be sheltered from the wind. But the wind shifted, grew very strong, and whipped up the surf in the adjacent Devil’s Cauldron area to the point that I wasn’t sure I could finish the painting. In accord with one of the tips below, I did not show it at the Festival exhibition because I wasn’t sure it was any good. Later, I realized it was one of my best in terms of truly ‘capturing the moment.’ Subsequently it received several awards including one from the editor of Art of the West Magazine.”

Cannon tells us that “Malibu Lagoon” (watercolor on paper, 16 x 20 in.) is a recent painting that was a mega leap for him in both courage and execution. “It just returned home from an 15-month tour of six art museums,” he says, “including the Mystic Seaport Museum, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.”

Has one of your paintings in particular surprised you in the end? Tell us about in the comments section below, and use the hashtag #PleinAirToday on social media.

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  1. Congratulations to Larry in pushing through his struggles and insecurities (we all have them).
    My painting that most surprised me in the end is a 6 x 8 titled Malibu Motion, viewable on my website at The reason for my surprise is that I painted it immediately after struggling mightily with learning new techniques during a June 2016 five day workshop in Ketchum, ID with instructor Michael J. Lynch. I was so embarrassed by my plein air workshop results that I did not present any of my studies for critique at the end of the week. ( A mistake in retrospect). Throughout the course of the week I committed to Michael’s techniques, the most notable of which was the exclusive use of the Egbert brush for our daily plein air work. Like Larry Cannon, I was somewhat intimidated but excited about sharing the workshop experience with highly successful artists Kathryn Stats, Jill Carver, Jeff Horn Suzie Baker and Lori McNee. Upon my return home I immediately purchased Rosemary #2 & #4 Egbert brushes. The result was that my very first effort post workshop was Malibu Motion which received the Bold Brush Award March 2017 by Judge Kathleen Dunphy.

  2. I was very surprised at a fantasy painting “Roy’s Wooden Fish Swims” which of a wooden decorative fish I have in the bathroom, seemingly, swimming in an aquarium. Fun, too! You can see the results on my website


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