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10 Tips for Painting "En Plein Air?"

10 Tips for Painting "En Plein Air?"

Eric Maisel

Dear Dr. Maisel: I feel a strong desire to paint some cityscapes but I feel really blocked about going out and painting en plein air. Any thoughts about what might be holding me back? – Cynthia L., Chicago

Thanks, Cynthia.

What you’re experiencing isn’t so unusual. Here are 10 tips that may help!

1. You will have to do deal with your natural self-consciousness.

Most people don’t enjoy looking and feeling conspicuous. Even exhibitionists prefer blending in most of the time! So you need to talk yourself into a willingness to be seen, watched, pointed at, gawked at, criticized, and all the rest. You may turn out to be much more invisible than you fear—but if you aren’t, so be it!

2. You will have to deal with a vast amount of visual data.

When you’re in front of your canvas you have only whiteness to look at, which can be its own problem. But that’s a very different problem from the staggering amount of visual material available to you as you wander in the world. Wherever you turn your head, there is more to see! Accept this reality and talk yourself into the belief that all this visual data is a special kind of abundance, not some sort of problem.

3. You will be obliged to make choices.

You can’t paint everything you see! Even if that were possible, what would be the point? Isn’t the artistry in the choosing? Choosing provokes anxiety and having to make strong, clear choices about what to paint may well raise your anxiety level. Be prepared for this anxiety, know what you’re going to do to combat it, and accept that you have no choice as an artist but to choose.

4. You need to bring a painting set-up that works for you.

This may take repeated tries, as the first set-up may be too cumbersome, the second set-up too meager, and so on. Learning how to feel comfortable en plain air is a process and there is no reason why you should nail your set-up the very first time. Consider your first tries experiments and learn from them.

Next: Be Clear About Your Intentions →


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