Michael Chesley Johnson, “Down by the River,” 9 x 12 in., pastel, en plein air
Michael Chesley Johnson, “Down by the River,” 9 x 12 in., pastel, en plein air

When it comes to painting the landscape, there are many common mistakes that artists – especially new plein air painters – make. Here, Suzie Baker, Paul Kratter, and Michael Chesley Johnson share what they’ve seen over the years, and how you can avoid similar blunders.

Bonus! Answer the question below by commenting on this blog post for a chance to win the “Modern Color Set” from Williamsburg Oil Paints from Golden Artist Colors!

Remember to Keep It Simple When Painting the Landscape

“Plein air painting can be hard, even for accomplished studio and figurative painters,” says Suzie Baker. “One reason is the sheer amount of information to process when faced with a scene or location under changing light.

“When I first started painting in Plein Air Events, I would be excited to get started, and even a little anxious. Invariably, I would bite off more than I could chew on my first painting. Then, to add insult to injury, I would overwork it. Uggg! To avoid this predicament, I pulled back the reigns and began starting with a KISS painting (Keep It Simple Stupid).

“I have my workshop students do them too. Choosing a small panel and a simple composition of about five shapes takes the pressure off, loosens you up, and helps you start seeing in paint.”

Tips for painting the landscape
An example of Suzie Baker’s “KISS” paintings that keep the shapes simple when painting en plein air. (Analyze and mix colors like a pro with Suzie’s “Color Magic for Stronger Paintings” art video workshop)

Do the Sketch!

“Many times, an artist will jump in and paint without doing a sketch,” says Paul Kratter. “If you’re a beginner, this is a huge step that is not to be overlooked. I do one for almost every painting I do.

“First off, I do it to determine if the scene is worth painting, which it almost always is. I work out my composition plus my values and I do most of my editing at this stage. It’s the MOST important process in my painting! Drawing is SO essential to painting and the sketch is an extremely important step.”

Tips for painting the landscape
Paul Kratter, “Return to Curry Canyon,” 16 x 16 in., oil on linen panel, plein air, available (Shave years off of your learning curve by doing what Paul does – start with his art video workshop, “Mastering the Landscape”)

Lastly: On Thinner; Being Inappropriate; and Understanding Ratio

“So often I see oil painters using too much thinner in the block-in stage, and the paint just drips,” says Michael Chesley Johnson. “This makes it impossible to layer more paint. Instead, paint with ‘thin’ paint rather than ‘thinned’ paint. That is, try as much as possible to make the block-in with paint right out of the tube, using thinner only if absolutely necessary.

“Trying to take in the whole scene in front of you is another common mistake. Everyone loves a vista, but sometimes it’s not appropriate for the format chosen or the time available. The problem becomes worse when the artist is set in front of some truly awesome scenery, such as the Grand Canyon. Who can resist? But you have to. Crop down the scene to a meaningful portion by using your camera or some other cropping tool.

“With cropping in mind…quite often, the painter will crop the scene to a format that doesn’t match that of his painting surface. For example, let’s say you make a value sketch with a 4:5 ratio—but your painting surface is a 9×12 canvas, which is actually a 3:4 ratio. What happens then is that the design, which you so carefully (I assume!) plotted in the sketch, will not fit properly in the new space. For the design to work as planned, the sketch must match exactly the format of the chosen surface. A 3:4 canvas requires a 3:4 design sketch, and a 4:5 sketch, a 4:5 canvas.”

Win the “Modern Color Set” from Williamsburg Oil Paints

As a plein air painter, what are some of the mistakes you made in the beginning when painting the landscape? Share your comments with us on this blog post and you’ll be automatically entered to win a prize from Williamsburg Oil Paints from Golden Artist Colors: “Crisp and bright, these modern colors are an excellent choice for painters looking to supplement their traditional colors with higher chroma alternatives.” The set contains 11 ml tubes of Permanent Yellow Light, Permanent Yellow Deep, Pyrrole Red, Quinacridone Magenta, Egyptian Violet, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, Green Gold, plus a 37 ml Titanium White.

(Must be a U.S. resident to win; contest ends June 30, 2023; our team will contact the winner directly in early July)

Become a better outdoor painter today when you get the FREE e-Book for artists, “240 Plein Air Painting Tips.” [click here]

And browse more free articles here at OutdoorPainter.com


  1. In the beginning years of plein air, value contrast was murder to handle; painting in the bright sun, then taking that work into indoor light and seeing the dull low contrast. I still have that problem sometimes! Also painting for color and not value; even yellow is not a high enough value at times, without the addition of white.

  2. The inevitable changes in the scene were especially difficult for me to handle because I painted very slowly due to my unfamiliarity with plein air. Everything kept changing, a lot! Chasing a moving target is a perfect setup for frustration and a sense of defeat. That’s one of my early mistakes.

  3. I usually try to take a piece of the scene and break it down into a small portion of what I see. Also I clip a light board on my easel for shade on my canvas, it helps a lot. Areas where there is a lot of what appears to be green, I see the purples, blues, and yellows.

  4. When I started out I was in a constant state of overwhelm because I looked way too closely into details. I have since learned that what is telling the stories is not in the details but in conveying a sense of time and place. Honing my observation skills by taking in the big shapes and value/color relationships between them was a definitive break-through.

  5. I’m long on enthusiasm and short on experience as far as plein air. Enjoy it, but struggle to remember what I’ve been taught when I’m composing/drawing/blocking in. Something always needs tweaking back in the studio!

  6. My most common mistakes early on were not getting the values down for my composition – putting in way too many dark darks. The prelim sketch, keeping it to simpler and fewer shapes and shading in the values has been a life saver. Also mixing my colors in advance is worth the 15-20 minutes to really move along once I’m painting.

  7. My biggest mistake? Getting so caught up in the “rules” that I forgot to experience the joy of being there, outdoors painting. Sure, the resulting work isn’t always a masterpiece, but that isn’t necessarily the goal.

  8. When I first started I would try to put paint over paint and just create mud. All my colors were way too dark and so muddy. The finished product was a mess. It took me ages and lots of workshops and videos to learn to paint a decent plein air. I still tend to be too detailed and I don’t use enough paint. Practice, practice, practice if you want to get better.

  9. I’m very new to plein air painting and am experiencing all the mistakes talked about. I need to remember I’m not painting a tree, for instance, I’m painting shape, color, and values. But I’m determined and love learning. I just need to remember everything.

  10. Sometimes I get seduced by a flower with beautiful color and jump in painting that flower before having its surroundings correctly placed.

  11. My big mistake was using a cheap easel that was wobbly. I had to hold it with one hand, and it blew over in the wind. I now have a sturdy easel that I love. Another mistake was to rush into the painting, without observing the scene more closely.

  12. I’m just starting, so I’m making all of the mistakes. The one you just mentioned is my main one. I have to remember KISS!!!!

  13. These suggestions are very true. The KISS approach is important for artists of all levels but especially for beginners. It is too easy to become overwhelmed and to overcommit to too much in front of us. Though we understand these tips, it is helpful to get a friendly reminder, thanks.

  14. I love the impressionistic feel of these paintings and the vibrant color! I feel like all my plein air paintings look dull when I see them in artificial light and and trying to overcome that!

  15. My favorite tip is to pick a scene that is appropriate for the amount of time or format you have available. Such dramatic scenes are irresistible to me as well! But not every plain air piece is destined for greatness. It’s all learning and after every painting I ask myself … is there a passage, color or compositional choice that worked here? Invariably I can find something successful in every painting.

  16. In the studio I tend to work a painting from background forward. I found in plein air this was too slow of a process for fast changing light. Now I try to focus on middle ground shapes and shadows and work back and forward as time permits.

  17. Im just beginning to paint plein air. One challenge for me is finding a center of interest and sticking with it! It’s easy to get lost in the details of a scene. From what I read, I need to simplify and make a sketch to scale before I start!

  18. Early on I did not plan my landscape to fit my painting surface. I ended up with a crowded, distorted painting with too much detail. When I paint en plein air I look at my intended landscape through a card that has an opening of the same ratio as my painting surface. For example: in the field my most common painting surface is a 9”x12” canvas panel. So, my “view finding” card has a 3”x4” opening. Both the painting surface and the card have 3:4 ratio. I move the view finder, holding it in my hand, forward or back to frame the area that I want to include. My first quick sketches only encompass that area. That area is all I paint, now.

  19. The most common mistake is not backing up and viewing from a few feet away to better judge contrast and values and detail, often painting in so much detail that is not even noticeable from 4 feet away.

  20. Early on I didn’t think it was important to do a compositional sketch and value study. It didn’t take long to figure out these are critical in creating a good work. Do these prelims and become happier with your work!
    All the tips in this blog are great!

  21. I am still beginning. The biggest difficulty I have had has been knowing how to use values to give depth to landscapes.

  22. When I’m on location, inevitably I go through the process of sketching and an underpainting. I go through all the appropriate steps, as if I’m comfortably in my sunroom studio and I take TOO much time. For this reason, I’m not able to complete my painting, which is frustrating and I do sometimes lose the spontaneity of the scene I’m trying to capture. When I finish in my studio, I undoubtedly get a good outcome due to the Plein Air aspect. I realize that I need to speed up my process, which I am successfully improving upon. I’m on a wonderful journey.

  23. I took way too many colors with me and was loaded down with too much stuff. Now I use a limited palette and have minimized the equipment I take with me.

  24. The most successful Plein Air pieces
    I have done have been those that implied a story….a hat left on a swing, my granddaughter peering into a peony, a path up to a favorite house on a hill. Not surprisingly they have somehow connected emotionally to others and often sold. Sometimes slowing down and including that step seems to be neglected.

  25. I’m a studio painter but I have subscribed to the idea that painting en Plein air will help loosen me up, so I dutifully go out into the elements to do just that upon occasion… and loosen up I do!! I’ve taken a couple of outdoor workshops, so I know the proper steps but invariably I start out with too thick of paint (which is weird because I paint with multiple thin layers in my studio), and I end up having to embellish and flourish with my brushstrokes like a maestro to get any kind of artistic expression in my final result. Color choices are out the window because what I mix on my pallet is never what I see on my canvas and none of it matches the scene in front of me. I would say my biggest mistake however, is mixing white in with my block-in… My brain seems to turn off when I have so much stimulation all around me. All lessons blow away in the wind with my umbrella!!!

  26. I am impatient and forget to do a value sketch/design before getting started, and then I try to fit in too many details too soon because I don’t have that strong design clearly in mind. But we’re improving, slowly but surely.

  27. Be sure to have the necessary gear. Umbrellas, for instance, can be annoying. But if you paint in direct sun, your colors will never make you happy when you return to the studio. Don’t count on shade on site. Trying to paint with dappled light falling on your canvas. That will confuse the mess! Have a light jacket, supportive footwear, sunscreen, bug spray, bear spray ( where I paint) drinking water, and an energy bar. Last summer’s plein air required a brimmed hat with mosquito curtains!

  28. My mistake.. overpainting. I am learning to paint in shapes and values, then a bit of detail. No more mud!

  29. Not doing a thumbnail sketch is my biggest mistake and I continue to skip this part – when will I learn!

  30. In the beginning, I didn’t think of using a compass to note the path of the sun. It really helps, especially when painting a structure, as I can figure how the light on it will change. Sometimes it could mean that I’d have to paint, say, the lighted side of the structure first thing, (and then the shaded side/sides.) If I can do all this quickly enough, then the light on other things like trees, etc., won’t have changed appreciably by the time I get to them, and I won’t have spent the time blocking them in, and therefore won’t miss my opportunity to paint the (appeal of) the lighted structure, which probably drew me into the scene to begin with. Also, in the beginning I didn’t stop and assess all areas of color in my composition. That meant that if I needed to finish the painting in studio, then I wouldn’t know what color to make, say, the shadow of a tree, because I never noted it.

  31. Each of these blog tips are great, but for me the devil is in the details of what’s involved.
    As a beginner who wants to learn how to make good plein air paintings in the shortest time, I found there are 2 stages for every painting I do; the work stage where composition, value and object simplification happen and the fun stage, the color application part.
    I try but I can’t do an onsite sketch for composition and value in 5 minutes and my knowledge of what’s not right and how to make it better is limited. Both of these frustrate my learning process. To get better in both areas, I’ve found that by taking a photo of the site and using a simple computer program, like Photoshop Elements, I can crop and size the image, reduce values to 4 or 5 and move what is necessary for a good composition, all the while referring to books by Edgar Payne, Bob Rohm, Mitchell Albala, Kevin MacPhearson, etc. Then I can print the result and take it with me or transfer it to canvas. The hours this takes in learning is time well spent for me in learning how to do a better sketch next time.
    When I return to the site with the print out or the canvas, I’m ready for the fun part, the color application.

  32. All good info!! I’m totally guilty of all the mistakes and am really excited about my PA outing later this week to make the suggested changes!!!

  33. My first paint out workshop was in a location that didn’t inspire me. It was a gorgeous vista on a river but I tried to paint too much in too much detail. Learning to choose one main element has helped me tremendously.

  34. I went out on my own to paint outdoors carrying a load of tubes of paint, with a small pochade and a smallish canvas on board, and set up facing the sun to do a sunset. I was blinded by the light in my eyes (no hat or sunglasses) and every time I looked up from the palette I was dazzled again. Also, my acrylics kept drying up on the palette, and I continually needed to spray them. I could hardly see what I was trying to paint, and I hadn’t a plan for blocking in. By the time the sunset was approaching, my sight had adjusted and I could see what a mess I had on the canvas. I had to take a photo of the sunset, and finish it later inside – in several diferent versions. Lessons? Shade when you want to see, sketch and plan out the major elements before you touch the canvas, don’t depend on the actual sunset to give you the colors, plan ahead so you can block out the area of the sky you need. Don’t bring everything, bring what you need. Including a hat, more spray water, your own color palette. In the months afterward, I watched a lot of other artists and saw their methodical approach and came to my own way of approaching the subject.

  35. I see “everything” and it is very hard for me to nail down the essentials. I had a career as a landscape designer and nursery owner, so I see each plant and know its botanical name so I have trouble just painting shapes and forcing myself to consciously “forget” what the species is. At first I would try to paint everything I saw. That was a dead end. Also failing to take note of the direction of the sun and marking it on my support to remind me where the shadows “should” be as the light changed. I am slowly learning to concentrate on what the shapes are and where the darkest dark and the lightest light are. It is a struggle.

  36. I agree with all the other comments–especially choosing an area to paint that is the same ratio as my canvas or panel–and for me, smaller sizes, 11×14 or 9×12 are easier to complete plein air. I do a sketch on my canvas or panel with acrylic, even if I’m painting with oil, to rough in the shapes and indicating where the light is coming from–which is a major element of my paintings. Then I fill in the darks and the mid tones, finishing with my lights. I take a photo just in case I missed an important detail, but I do try to simplify as much as I can.

  37. When first beginning, I should have made a list of things to carry. Invariably I would get out there and have forgotten a pretty major piece of my kit.

  38. I only occasionally paint Plein air. Living in Vermont, I find it frustrating to deal with outdoor conditions, such as bugs, ticks, dry/ wet environment and how it affects the paint, etc. However, when I do, I have learned to “take less stuff”, fewer brushes, paint colors, etc. and to compartmentalise everything else into the smallest possible containers. Especially useful is the recycling of my CBD tincture bottles / droppers.

  39. One of the early mistakes I made was starting with too big a canvas and waiting to prepare my palette until I got to the location. Light changes quickly. A smaller canvas and paints set up and ready to go help me get started quicker to capture what it was that attracted me to the scene.

  40. My biggest downfall is not being organized out in the field. My pack is weighted down with too many paints and unneeded materials. I am constantly dropping things etc. This year I have vowed to be more organized with less weight carried in my pack. I am using panels instead of canvases with depth as the light causes interference with seeing paint on my canvas which causes me to work in too dark values and incorrect colors. Simple is better!

  41. I love love love to be outside… painting.. I get so excited to be there I feel the need to hurry up and get started… so I don’t miss anything… I need to slow it down. Breathe and observe what I am feeling and channel all of my excitement and energy into my work with focus! I need to make the simple sketch, the proper size with proper values in mind and then stick to the plan. Ha ha… I look forward to my next venture out! Happy painting everyone.

  42. I agree. I’ve of the biggest challenges is simply getting overwhelmed with too much information. You keep turning your head and seeing more to include in your scene. I’ve overcome this by 1) being aware of the seduction elements not relevant to the scene and giving myself permission to “delete” them, doing a simple 3-4 value sketch with markers or paint( not pencil which invites small lines and too much detail and 3) setting up visual “anchors” on either side of the scene for myself. For example. I will go no further than that tree of the left and that small building on the right. Keeps me focused

  43. Being new to plein aire painting I am always trying to pare down my supplies and learning to take my time and not rush. Cape Cod never fails to give you a beautiful vista! So lucky 🍀

  44. These are all great tips even after painting en plein air for several years ! It is helpful to read the above comments as well.

  45. Trying to take it all in! Narrowing down my focus and the second biggest challenge is chasing the light. Like everything practice is needed but KISS is a great reminder to start small. Oh, and my second time out, my memorable mistake was not checking my surroundings. I was very close to a large ant hill and they found me before I noticed them!

  46. I’m always excited when I start a new plein aire painting. Often I jump right in and paint a scene in front of me without taking time to look around to see if there’s something better.
    My biggest problem is, inevitably, my painting is too dark. I do try to be in the shade when I paint.
    I have not considered aspect ratio between my sketch and my painting. Even though I do make it rectangular. Really glad it was brought up in this article. I’ll have to figure out the correct size in my sketchbook.

  47. At first I painted everything too dark. I would get a painting home and be shocked at how dark I had mixed my colors. Now I have learned to watch for this tendency and compensate for it. I have also found that using a panel toned with Pyrrole Red helps me with glare on my white canvas.

  48. My biggest mistake is not making a sketch first. It’s too tempting to jump right in. I’m an abstract artist who likes not knowing where a painting will go, with plein air it’s so different! I also used to suffer with pollen allergies but I’ve taken to wearing a mask – and even goggles! – during pollen season. Ridiculous, but they help.

  49. I am a new painter and found this article very helpful. The practice of focusing on shapes and staying with no more than 5 shapes has helped me keep things simple, especially in the planning stages. Also, doing thumbnail sketches to work on composition and values. Thank you.

  50. Keeping it simple sounds easy but the reality is it the hardest thing to learn. I do paint mostly with a knife though so I don’t have thinner issues .
    Sometimes it’s best to step back and look at the scene just as shade and light.

  51. I have definitely forgotten to format my sketch to the support I’ve brought! I’ve found it helpful to use a black and white pen sketch for my value study as opposed to a pencil-helps me see the values more quickly and assertively.

  52. Too often I will chase the light. I realize if I will discipline myself to do a sketch first, with the light and shadow established, I will save myself more aggravation. AlsoI need to remember to ground my easel to prevent it from blowing over in wind gusts.

  53. I made thumbnail sketches in the same proportion as my canvas, worked out values, toned my canvas…I was certain I had it figured out, and immediately began applying strokes of very thick paint over the entire canvas. From that point on, it was impossible to refine edges, values and detail without making just a big, muddy mess.

  54. A limited palette (one blue, one yellow, one red (usually burnt sienna), one white) saved me. Now I have a slightly larger palette: a warm and cool of each of the above. But forcing myself to keep it very, very simple helped me learn how to “interpret” values. I also learned that I need to stain my canvas before I actually start… usually I aim for the mid-tone in roughly the average huge throughout the painting.

  55. I have just lately started painting again.switched to waretcolor for convience but still enjoy oils and want to get back into them.

  56. I have made most of the mistakes discussed in the comments. No sketch, chasing the light, not toning the canvas, etc. A problem I struggle with is painting the focal point last, instead of first. While you want to work the entire canvas, extra attention should be devoted to the focal point to bring it to clarity and other elements should be softer as you move away from that focal area.

  57. Trying to add too many details and chasing the light were the mistakes I struggled with in the beginning. I still have to remind myself to simplify and capture the initial light quickly.

  58. When you go to a buffet you can’t eat everything there. In the same way when you paint a landscape you can’t paint everything you see. I won’t paint to have to ask, “Does this painting make my landscape look fat?” But paint with thin, skinny and style in mind. Thanks for the tips!

  59. I am a beginner with the plein air process, and am simply overwhelmed at times, but I muster through. I sketch the scene but it IS difficult to simply what you are viewing. I am eager to learn all the tips I can from all the various artists which are very helpful. Thank you artists!

  60. Some times I feel the need to include everything I see. I have learned to edited out unneeded images in my composition. I ask myself, “what is the major focus in my composition?”. What attracted me to the location?

  61. My second year of plein air painting, I entered a 2 hour Quick Draw. It was a 1:00 PM start and 98 degrees. Shade was definitely necessary. But an hour into the Quick Draw my panel, palette, and myself were in full sun with no room to turn to a better position. It took the second hour to complete the painting and submit it. Judging and display were done under the shade of a porch. To my horror, my painting’s bright, colorful, sunlit subject viewed in the light was now muted, dull, and lacked value change viewed in the dim light of the porch. Lessons learned: Read the movement of the sun better and be conscious of how my eyes are affected by an intense light source.

  62. I have learned so much in the past years, create a drawing/notan, take your time, stay with the plan, and try not to include too much detail.

  63. Trees! Capturing the variations among species, the unique textures of tree trunks, the organic sprawl in the canopy, the different colors of the deciduous trees and evergreens, the subtle tones among the leaves. Practice, practice, practice and reading Plein Air newsletters that have drilled down on some these matters.

  64. I am beginner in this outdoor painting. I find that I choose too large of painting or subject. So changed tactics and now bring a small canvas and focus on one smaller piece of the big picture.

  65. I was once struggling with a plein air thumbnail sketch and a bit of advice from previous teachers came to mind. Block in the darks. Once the shapes of the darks were set, I got over the hump of how to simplify and I was on a roll.

  66. Early mistakes… we’re tough to hurdle and therw were a LOT! New mistakes, ya kinda know right away so it’s an easy fix. An early mistake for me was not setting up the proportion of the painting… I never use a crop tool, but I have developed the habit of picking 4 spots to use and I leave some marks on the canvas edges to use as guides. Sometimes 6 or 7 of them, but usually 4. My focal point is where it should be.

  67. So great to read all of these “mistakes”. Mine is sometime being too lazy to do a value and composition sketches and not always using a viewfinder. Those three always make a difference

  68. I have to work against a tendency to add every single detail I see in a scene. Editing is my friend. Big shapes are key, and I have a habit of breaking them into too many parts. Also, my objects tend to “grow” as I paint and I lose the lines of my original composition. I need variations in edges now. As a beginner, I painted hard edges on everything and color that was probably too garish. It takes a long while to get some subtlety in outdoor work.

  69. I had been painting oly in watercolor and then took a class in plein air where I learned how interesting wet-on-wet oil painting could be! Glad I expanded my range.

  70. Always, always – the same mistake I’m continuing to try to break myself of…trying to be too detailed, being too “photographic” and put everything into the composition.

  71. I didn’t simplify and got into the details too soon then lost the light and shadow that caught my eye to begin with. When you sketch first, you take in proportion and detail. That makes simplifying in paint easier. Don’t paint every leaf! Block in large color areas. Add some color dots to catch the light and contrasts and step back a lot. You’ve got a photo of the scene, now free yourself to paint the feeling.

  72. Always appreciate the thoughtful tips that these successful artists give us. Thank you! I will try today in my Kathleen Dunphy art workshop to try these out!

  73. My biggest thing is not always doing a value sketch before starting to paint and planning out the composition. Still working on that!

  74. I struggle with values, especially when there are many greens…I recently faced this painting plein air in South Austin. Also, it looked so dark inside…I may try for a higher key next time

  75. Just as Michael Johnson noted, beginning artists (and even those further along) tend to want to paint everything they see. I was painting a doorway of an old house, with a pot of flowers. But then, well, I had to include the steps. And how about the two windows to the right of the door? Then there’s a bench out in front, and a flower-lined walkway and before long I’ve tried to fit half the state on an 8×10″ canvas. This is where the preliminary sketch can help you rein in the tendency to include everything – if you can discipline yourself to stick to it.

    • Ah ha, such is my challenge. Trying to fit the whole scene into the canvas, not leaving out that particular tree but the scene is too close to include it at the right proportions or perspective, so… I’m sure you get the picture! Thanks for sharing and the chuckle.

  76. Great tips! I’m new to plein air; So much to learn!
    I ask for feedback … “move to the pain” to learn, grow and improve. Enjoy the journey.

  77. I still often forget to make a Notan sketch before starting to paint, and always need to remind myself to squint and step back from the painting. Someday this will become second-nature….right??

  78. I need to settle on a limited palette. When I bring too many colors, afraid I won’t have what I need, I also end up with too much gear and a crowded palette. The actual painting time is cut back by too many choices.

  79. I started out really violating the KISS rule – which would inevitably lead to challenges. What really freed me is when I was told feel free to reduce – and to add!! Taking things away and adding these in order to create a more harmonious composition and value balance was amazing!

  80. My big mistake was usually not preparing well enough before setting off to paint outside. Sometimes I would look out the window in the morning and think “What a great day to paint!(although everyday is a good day to paint, right ? ) and rush around getting things together to go and forgetting to tone the canvas, bring a plastic bag for used paper towels etc. etc. So now I try to always keep a backpack and pochade box fully stocked and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I am sure most painters do this already as it is so practical. I’ve also started using water mixable oils for plein air as they are so much easier to clean up during and after painting. And I also learned to take a photo with my phone before I start and refer back to it while painting if light conditions are changing very quickly

  81. When I started plein air painting, I fell into the trap of trying to paint like everyone else- quickly and in shorthand. Now I paint for me and use my outdoor sessions to focus on whatever aspect of painting I’m interested in studying.

  82. I remember one particular day when I chased the light. I was painting a pond in a shaded area at a botanical gardens. I started early morning. I could have stopped then. BUT I kept going ing with later morning light changes. I had to leave for an appointment and returned for afternoon light. You guessed it! I should have stopped. And finally finished the painting. I take photos of my painting process. Yes, there were three very different paintings.
    In an open studio setting, I had a fellow artist ask why I took photos of my painting in process and I replied”I like to see where I would have stopped.”

  83. I have at times felt too much of a need to hurry and not spend some time planning before I paint. That could be a thumbnail sketch to plot out the design, or even just contemplating my process steps ahead of time. The pressure to get painting can make a painter hurry onto the final canvas too quickly. 5–10 minutes of thought and planning can go a long way.

  84. It took a few years to accept that not every plein air painting is a keeper. The more I painted, the easier it became to let go of the lesser efforts and to self critique my progress. It’s about the process, not the product.

  85. While painting outdoors the effect of the sun may change four times therefore my shadows also change. I mistakenly fail to take into consideration the angle of the sun before, during and at the end of my painting.

  86. My biggest struggle has been to learn to paint the essence of the landscape, focusing on color and tone, instead of detail. I like the five object warmups and am going to try it out

  87. One beginner mistake I learned about was painting with my canvas in direct sunlight. It seemed logical and best to have the same light source on my subject and my artwork. But when I brought my painting indoors, it was much too dark! I’ve learned to either get an umbrella while working or to set up my easel in the shade.

  88. I definitely agree on all the points you mentioned. I have yet to catch myself Getty too involved in the details of the landscape. A beautiful vista can be overwhelming and I tend to include everything that is interesting. I experience a big improvement in my work as I identify key shapes to create an impactful design. And with only a few hours outdoors, this truly helps me loosen up and makes my work fresh and more dramatic.

  89. Trying to find the best location and driving around, for hours, now I can find inspiration in my backyard or across the street. Also, making at least 3 thumbnails saves a lot of painting time, less correction. and better compositions.

  90. Composition is the hard one for me. The constant push and pull of objects in the shade and in the light to get that overall balance. Then tie it all to a focal point. Once that’s done, let Nature take its course and keep the colors simple.

  91. I’m an inexperienced plein air painter, so I do almost everything wrong. But I’m trying. I’m still working on getting the right combination of supplies and then having the confidence to choose my subject and composition and proceed. The article had great tips. Getting correct values is also a WIP.

  92. My two most frequent mistakes when starting out: 1. I didn’t do the initial sketch to see the value structure of what I planned to do. 2. I didn’t consciously think about the “why.” WHY did I want to paint this view, and not that? What was I basically trying to say? If I skipped these two things because I was anxious or feeling rushed, it would not turn out as well.

  93. My biggest issues when I first started painting were changing my painting as the light changed. I also brought way too many paints and gear that was too heavy. I also included way too much detail instead of simplifying and just painting the larger shapes and focusing on values.

  94. My biggest plein air mistake is choosing a scene that is too complicated for my ability and trying to paint it. I have learned to edit the scenes down so that I have an opportunity to finish them.

  95. Have fun, be outside to enjoy the moment. Don’t try to make it a final painting…make it a study. Learn from your experience by studying the color, shapes, textures, light etc. This will help you when you do a larger painting. Flood the canvas with paint, don’t nit-pick…sculpt the paint vs. heavy brushing. Use a pallet knife and stay loose.

  96. I am a studio artist. In the initial days of plein aire I struggled with giving too much detail that I would often miss the lights and darks. The other things I struggled on were value changes, and color composition. I strongly felt I could have used better colors and made few changes in the color composition to make it look better. Learnt these slowly only.

  97. Common mistakes include skipping the compositional sketch, complicating the landscape with too much detailed information, and not using a simplified version of what lies before our eyes. Landscape IS information overload when we include everything in a scene. Mistakes also include a lack of light direction, lack of value changes, no focal point, and too many colors on your color palette. Landscape greens and yellows can be “off” thus reducing the natural beauty. My biggest concern is composition. If composition is weak then the entire painting is less effective overall. I work primarily in neutrals and that’s because I’m after something that color cannot express.

  98. I get overwhelmed by a busy but beautiful scene. The challenge is not letting your eye wander to other areas that you have edited out of your thumbnail sketch/value study. I have also made the mistake of doing a quick thumbnail and then not referring to it again. I get in too much of a hurry to finish the painting.

  99. All of these advices are extremely good. For me, the « keep your ratio correct » is the one I tend to forget… Lear to draw, learn to compose, play with values, but don’t forget to keep it all together when you start the real painting!

  100. I find that get so overwelmed by the whole landscape and then start to criticize it whishing things were higher bigguer closser and then Inhave a hard time painting things I dont understand like a piece of metal that I dont understand its shape or purpose. I feel like i need to perfect my drawing skills so much …

  101. As a beginner to oil painting 10 years ago, I found that my paintings looked so flat and dark when I took them inside and saw them in indoor light. Now I take a value scale with me and put it right on my palette while mixing. This has helped me to make my darks darker and lights lighter so the middle values are more defined as well.

  102. My first Plein air was a disaster but a great learning lesson too.
    I stood in full light (canvas and palette), I had isolated the scene but had not done a sketch, and I didn’t start out thin enough. The painting was very alla prima and looked terrible in indoor light. But I kept that painting to remind me of where I started so I could see my progress.
    Each time I paint I learn another valuable lesson.
    Curious to know how many pre mix their colors or dive right in? I do it both ways. Even challenge myself to use second at colors only , plus white for example, to try to learn more about color but still respond in real life, in real time.

  103. My biggest down fall when i started plein air painting was spending all my painting time looking for the perfect spot instead of designing my painting with the beauty in front of me!! Its easy to let all of nature overwhelm you so great advise on KISS.

  104. Timely article as I still have problems keeping my painting within boundaries I thought I’d set in my sketch…. I have some 6×6 canvas boards that I’d like to paint simply… Thanks

  105. Plein Air painting for the perfectionist brings lots of challenges for me: Chasing the light (Ugh!); trying to include too much information; painting too slow because I end up ‘trying to hard’ and then it gets overworked. Reminding myself that every time I get out there and paint, I am learning. Having Patience in knowing that if I paint often enough, I just might get some paintings that I’m happy with. Thanks for a great article!

  106. My problem to this day is getting impatient and in a hurry to catch the light. Anne Blair Brown says think like a turtle, paint like a rabbit! So true, Tichard Schmidt says to think before you do anything but I still have a hard time doing that!

  107. One of the mistakes I made in the beginning of my plein air painting adventure was not having a check list for supplies. Now I still keep a list handy and it includes the obvious like paints and brushes. At one of my first plein air events, I actually forgot my paint tubes! And, in Wyoming, including bear spray is a must. Always a challenge, outdoor painting can be simplified with a list of the essentials.

  108. Great article and I’ve enjoyed the comments. I’ve only painted outdoors for a month or two. The big challenges to me are cutting down the scene to what’s in front of me rather than a panoramic view, forgetting to paint in the darks first, and making water too blue. I am excited that im getting better at mixing some great greens without any green from a tube.

  109. I have read so many articles and watched videos on plein air painting, is it neccessary to “squint”? To do so in order to get shapes and values? Also, what is a better canvas to use. rough or smooth? I have to watch my paint spending, what would be the one thing a Plein air painter cant live without? if i had to splurge on one item? and lastly oils vs acrylics? I have a very small oil set that I am almost afraid to break out? what would be the best color palet for oil?

  110. I’m still working on becoming looser. I started out trying to make a tight studio painting in an ever-changing outdoor setting. Also, I have learned to slow down and do the prep work. I always felt like I needed to hurry to get the painting done before the light changed. Now I don’t worry about the changing light and shadows because I have all my notes and sketches jotted down.

  111. This was a good reminder of the importance of a good sketch as the best start to any painting. I get impatient and want to paint right away… and typically regret it.


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