Plein air painting with children -
Hyon Fielding’s students, showing off their creations

From the Plein Archives > Oregon art instructor Hyon Fielding taught dozens of children the importance and benefits of plein air painting. Here, she offers 10 pieces of advice on the topic.

When Hyon Fielding was approached about instructing kids in painting by the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute, she said yes. Then she had to make it work. Fielding says two of the main issues were mundane concerns about restrooms and drinking water. Then she started formulating a plan, one that involved a mere $250 in materials and some key donations from her framer. “I asked him to donate 30 leftover back boards to use as painting boards, and he was glad to do it,” she says. “After spending $250, I can do two more classes beyond the four I’ve taught, without buying more materials.”

Here are her 10 tips for teaching kids plein air painting.

Painting outdoors with children
Fielding and one of her students
Plein air youth
Fielding’s students working at picnic tables
  1. Pick a location in a park, or riverside — somewhere where there are a lot of trees, birds, and shade. Make the students feel like they are in for a special treat, like a field trip.
  1. Meet with the principal and the teachers, give them a presentation on your goals, and get them on board in terms of your teaching plan. Ask the teachers to participate in the painting as well.
  1. Have the teachers talk to the students about the plein air event so they know what’s in store.
  1. Get art materials as soon as the school agrees to do the event.
  1. Use simple supplies. I used Reeves non-toxic watercolors. Squeeze a minimum of seven colors onto their palettes before the start of class. Supply brushes in three sizes, and hand them out in one-gallon Ziploc bags with three pieces of paper towel. Bring a few gallons of water and disposable cups for cleaning brushes. Keep the supplies simple.
  1. Keep the first class short — no more than 1 or 1 1/2 hours long. You want them to miss painting outside, not think it is boring.
  1. Keep the class size between 10 and 20 kids, with supervising teachers to help keep them in order. I had one class of 30, but there were four teachers to supervise them, and they had fun painting with the kids.
  1. Use a whistle to get their attention when needed.
  1. Explain what plein air means. Give a short demo on how to use brushes, mix colors, how to make darks and lights, and the like. Use an illustration board to keep terminology visible to them as you offer a 10- or 20-minute demo.
  1. Allow one hour for painting time. Advise them to explore their imaginations from what they see and to listen for sounds in their surroundings. Take them to another world, one of the creative mind. These little artists will surprise you with some great ideas and good work.

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