Kathleen Dunphy, “Wyoming Aspens,” oil on linen, 8 x 6 inches

Award-winning plein air painter Kathleen Dunphy knows a thing or two about maximizing her time in the field. Here, she shares four secrets to staying at the ready for whenever inspiration strikes.

  • Get up earlier than you think you need to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to a painting site when the light was perfect — and by the time I set up my gear, the effect I was interested in was gone. I often leave the house in the dark in order to get those first rays of sun. You can always take a nap later!
  • Keep a notebook of places to paint and times and dates when the light is best. That way, when you have time to go out and paint, you’ll have a list of possibilities already figured out and won’t need to waste time looking for a good spot to set up.
  • Keep an extra set of gear in your car at all times. When you just have a small window of time, your easel and paints will be there and ready to go — no more excuses to not paint! You can also cannibalize that set if your regular gear breaks or you forget something.
  • Keep sketchbooks everywhere! No one can ever practice drawing enough, so take advantage of every free bit of time to draw. Stash a sketchbook in your purse, in the glove compartment of the car, next to the coffee maker, in your backpack — that way, when your friend is late to meet you at Starbucks or you’re stuck in traffic, you can pass the time sketching and improving your drawing skills instead of playing with your iPhone.
Kathleen Dunphy, “Miles to Go,” oil on linen, 40 x 30 inches

To hear Kathleen Dunphy share her thoughts about painting outdoors, focusing on what you love, and much more, check out this podcast interview with Eric Rhoads.

This article was featured in PleinAir Today, a weekly e-newsletter from PleinAir magazine. To start receiving PleinAir Today for free, click here.


  1. I would also suggest photographing the subject in the light you are planning to paint.
    Once I started a scene of Eucalyptus trees, which I was unable to finish and when I returned to the site, the trees had been cut down!


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