Why Painting Outside Can Help All Painters

Artwork Archive | May 11, 2017 (Updated April 12, 2021)

This year we had the opportunity to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Diego, and now that the dust has settled, a few pieces of advice have stuck with us.

As painter Lori McNee said during the conference, “If you can walk away with one or two pieces of info it’s worth it. These gems will rise to the top, and they will add to what you need to grow as an artist.”

It is difficult to see everyone and hear everything. So, if you were at the conference, let us know what advice has risen to the top for you!

Here are a few of our favorites:

“You may laugh, but painting is about paint—not subject matter. It’s about what I can do with paint and its structure” - Quang Ho

Before beginning a painting, master painter Quang Ho asks himself how he will paint a scene in a different way. He wants to know how to paint an ocean differently or see a mountainscape with different colors. 

"It's really the exploration of paint and color that is the most surprising to me,” says Quang Ho. 

“Painting outside has helped me with seeing shades. Before plein air, I was a hyperrealistic painter and used pure black and white. But, nothing in nature is in a vacuum. Nothing is completely absorbent.” - Velko Geurgevich

Serbian painter, Velko Geurgevich, claims that this is why painting outside can help all painters. He also jokes that this helped train him to see color in percentages while mixing his palette “like RoboCop.”

Another takeaway? “If it looks better than what you see in nature … just keep it,” Velko said, laughing.

“You’re not just recording scenery. There are a lot of decisions that go into painting a scene to make it look natural. There is a lot of taking things out and putting things in.” - Jeremy Lipking

Jeremy Lipking, an artist who has quickly become of the country’s top realist painters, claims he is more of a passion painter than anything else. “It’s hard for me to paint something that I’m not excited about,” he says.

There have been many times while Jeremy was painting en plein air that people have come up to him and questioned why he was painting when he could just take a picture. But, to him, painting is much more than that.

“A lot of people will look at [a plein air painting] and to an outsider, it will look like you are copying a scene. But, to make a painting look natural takes a lot of experience.”

“You don’t have to paint like anyone else. Stay true to yourself and take with you what you need to grow as an artist.” - Lori McNee

Lori elaborated on this with a quote from Dr. Seuss: “Why are you trying to fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Especially when you are surrounded by a lot of other artists, it can be easy to compare or to want to adopt a whole new style. Lori warns against comparison. She urges artists to learn from each other, but to stay true to their own unique vision. 

If you can take one or two pieces of information from an artist and apply it to your own practice, that is better than trying to adopt their whole style.

Bonus tip from Lori: You can use vegetable oil for cleaning a palette and dawn dish soap and water for brushes. Just don’t let them sit in the waterit will ruin them. But! If they do lose shape, you can stick them in boiling water for a few seconds and they will reshape.

Even if you aren’t necessarily a plein air painter, the above advice can be beneficial.

The basic principles ring true across disciplines: be true to yourself, experience matters, train your eye, and know your materials. And, above all, get outside every once in a while to observe nature—regardless of your chosen medium.

Were you at PACE 2017? Any other advice that has risen to the top? Let us know below!

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