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Plein air Tip Video: Preparing Panels for Painting #Pleinair

Plein air painters have many different surfaces to choose from on which to create their art.

There is duck canvas, linen, canvas panels, linen panels, birch board and many other choices for the outdoor artist.  I’ve tried many of these and have come to my own conclusion and method that works best for my process.  That’s why I like to use gessoed and oil primed hardboard panels for painting plein air.  Some of the benefits of using panels instead of canvas is, they’re portable–you can carry many in a panel holder when travelling–they won’t tear or dent, and they never have the issue of sunlight coming through the back like you can get when you use canvas outdoors.

I made a video that shows how I prepare inexpensive hardboard panels with gesso and oil primer. They make a great surface to paint on. You might want to try using the methods I’m goint to share to see if you like painting on them as much as I do.  Here’s the video if you’re interested:

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Framing Tips for the #Pleinair Artist

Plein air painting, "Santa Inez at San Elijo" by San Diego artist, Ronald Lee Oliver.

The working artist has to wear many hats, one of which is the “Framers Hat.” The following framing tips show how I treat my paintings to ensure they look professionally done and will serve my clients and galleries well.

If you plan to sell paintings yourself through an online presence without the intermediary of a gallery or other representation, to keep costs down you should know some things about framing.  If you do work with galleries, they will appreciate that your works arrive ready to hang with a professional look, both front and back.

Some tools that will come in handy are:

  1. A Tape Measure.
  2. Wire “Nippers.”
  3. Cordless Drill Driver
Framing Tips. A typical 16x20 panel in a quality, wooden frame.
A typical 16×20 panel in a quality, wooden frame.

I use stainless steel hardware that will never rust. You don’t want your reputation tarnished by rusty parts a few years down the road.  Usually I paint en plein air on hardboard panels as seen in the photo.  Panels are portable, easy to mount and will not tear like a canvas could.  It’s also easy to sign, date and add any other info to the back of the painting with a permanent “Sharpie” type marker.

Here’s a closer look at the information I put on my panels…

Framing Tips

I like to add:

  1. The Title.
  2. My Signature(s).
  3. The Date and Place I Painted the Painting.
  4. A Copyright Symbol and Year.
  5. What I Used to Conserve the Painting.

In this case I used Dammar Varnish, so I’ve written that down in the lower right on the back of the panel.  This will help future owners and conservators when it comes time to clean and re-seal the painting.  They will know what solvents and cleaners are necessary to do their work and will appreciate that I’ve helped them out with this message.
Framing TipsYou can see the screws I use are stainless steel, self tapping #6×3/8″.  I prefer using these short screws because some frames have very thin face material and longer screws can actually penetrate through the front and ruin a costly frame.  That’s not good!  The 3/8 length is strong enough to hold most any painting up to about 18×24 inches.  Beyond that, you may want to ensure your frames are more substantial and can take the longer screws without any issues. I don’t think the 3/8″ screws are adequate to hold larger, heavier frames.  You can also see the “offset clip” I’ve used to hold the panel tightly in the frame opening. These clips come in different offset depths and it’s good to have an assortment because frames have differing rabbet depths and sometimes you may use a thicker panel or canvas so it’s good to be prepared.
Framing Tips

I like the single-eye, D-Ring style, stainless steel hangers. These too are strong enough to hold small to medium-sized paintings but if you frame larger works, it would be good to get the heavy-duty hangers with two screw holes, so you can be assured they will hold the extra weight.

Framing Tips

You can see the tips of the self-tapping screws in this photo. No need to pre-drill pilot holes when using these–saves lots of time.  Just put the screw on the magnetic tip of your drill driver and place it where you want, then pull the trigger…in it goes!
Framing Tips

I think it’s best to use vinyl-coated framers wire for the hanging wire.  It protects your fingers (and your clients) as well as makes the installation easier.  If you’ve ever had your finger pricked or had a strand of framing wire go under your fingernail, you’ll know why I recommend this 🙂

I use a slip-knot loop to attach the wire to the D-Rings at both ends.  Leave about 4 or 5 inches of extra wire at each end in addition to the length needed to span the width from the D-Rings at each side.
Framing Tips

Tighten up the slip-knot, then wrap the extra wire around the main length about a 10 or 12 times…
Framing Tips

then cinch it down tight and cut off the excess, leaving a nice presentation with no fly-away ends.  The D-Rings should be placed as near to the edge of the frame as possible without showing.  This ensures that the painting hangs close to the wall.
Framing Tips

I also like to add a business card with my web URL on it glued to the back.  I use simple white glue for this because it will hold up well and dries clear.
Framing TipsThe finished wire should be good and taught without much slack.  Here you can see that with the D-Rings about 6 inches from the top of the frame, the wire flexes up when hanging by less than two inches, leaving about 4 inches of room for the hanger to be hidden from the top of the painting.  This also makes sure that the top of the frame does not drift away from the wall.
Framing Tips

That’s it!  It’s not too difficult to Do It Yourself and make sure your art will hang correctly and with a professional appearance.  Your clients and galleries will appreciate your art all the much more when it’s framed and ready to hang with professional, quality materials and techniques.

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Five Plein Air Painting Tips for the Beginning Plein Air Painter

The act of plein air painting is an acquired taste.

Many artists see plein air painters at their easels in the open air, capturing the light and essence of a beautiful, natural scene before them and think, “I will do that some day!”

Little do they know that painting in the open air has its own specific challenges that make it much different from attacking a canvas in the relative comfort and the steady, even lighting of their studio.  Still, plein air painting can be very rewarding for the creative soul and is well worth the effort to develop some proficiency in it as an art.  Following are five “tips” for the beginning plein air painting admirer that just may help them become a plein air aficionado.

1.)  Start small.

It is far easier to manage a small canvas and a small kit when a beginner, rather than diving in to tackle large canvasses or elaborate outdoor easels. When beginning, you are testing the waters and it makes sense to keep it simple to find if plein air is the right avenue for you. Expensive kits and brushes are not necessary to start.   An inexpensive half box french easel and 6×8 in. canvas panels or hard boards and a cheap set of hog bristle, long-handled brushes are a good beginning.

2.) Use artist grade paints.

Student grade paints will cause more frustration than learning as a beginner.  They have difficult consistency and do not mix or thin well as artist grade paints do. There are some very good quality artist grade oil paints, such as Gamblin and Rembrandt that are reasonably priced.

3.) Use a limited palette.

A split-primary palette is a good palette for the plein air painter (even for the seasoned veteran). A split primary consists of a  both a warm and cool, single pigment choice for the three primary colors–Red, Yellow and Blue.  Add a black, yellow ochre, and transparent red oxide and you have a very good start with only 9 colors and of course titanium white. Later on, you may wish to expand your palette with some specialty or convenience colors.  Learn what the symbols and numbers mean on the paint tubes.  There is much to learn about pigment properties such as transparency, light fastness, and mixing qualities.

4.)  Composition is half the battle.

A poorly composed painting, no matter how adroitly painted, will read as a failure.  Read up or web search for terms such as “rule of thirds,” “the golden section,” “avoiding tangents,” “focal points,” “lost and hard edges” among others.  It’s always good to have a “center of interest” in your composition but that certainly doesn’t mean it should be plopped dead center in your canvas, which is generally the wrong thing to do.  Avoid placing elements along the side of the frame or bisected by the outer perimeter of your composition.  And finally, remember…rules are meant to be broken but break them consciously and for good reason, rather than by accident.

5.)  Consider water mixable.

As a beginner, you have the opportunity to forego the hazards and hassles of working with oils and solvents with your paints.   There are some excellent water mixable oil paints that will allow you to make professional quality paintings that cannot be distinguished from those made with the traditional oil and solvent media.  Cobra and Holbein are two brands with good reviews for water mixable.  They also offer water mixable mediums and impasto gels.  As a beginner it may make sense to commit to learning and working from the beginning, with the water mixable products, rather than delve into the world of mineral spirits and turpentine.

These are just a few sound pieces of advice for the beginner who is enchanted by the sight of a painter standing at an easel in the open air of a natural scene.  That’s where it begins…with the will to do, to be, to create outdoors at an easel–making the first steps to acquire your “kit,” then actually taking it to an inspiring place and taking the leap.  There is a great deal to learn, but it is “so worth” every minute you will spend painting “en plein air!”

 

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Working Swiftly in Plein Air Painting ~ San Elijo Lagoon

An evening plein air painting at San Elijo Lagoon
An evening plein air painting at San Elijo Lagoon 11×14 in. oil on panel

One of the challenges of plein air painting is working within a limited budget of time. The interplay of a moving sun and fleeting clouds make swift work integral to capturing the scene.  A changing scene may force the painter to work from memory, which is not as accurate as direct observation.  And after all, really, who has the stamina (or is it the lunacy?) to paint for hours out in the elements?  Thank goodness, most of my plein air painting sessions finish in under two hours, before I can become dehydrated and sunburnt.  I completed this 11×14 inch plein air painting of San Elijo Lagoon in about an hour and a half. Having a pre-toned (a neutral gray) substrate helped the work to go quickly because there was no “white space” to cover and the toned background filled in the gaps in the superseding paint layers.

My goal in painting in plein air is not to make a photo-realistic depiction of the scene but rather to suggest something truthful, with expression but that also looks good when framed and hung on a wall.  Plein air painting provides the added benefit of being stretched by new challenges but also keeping the “chops” tuned for studio work.

The San Elijo lagoon and nature center is one of the great places in San Diego to visit at twilight. Either early in the morning or in the evening before sunset, hiking the well maintained trails and boardwalk there is a peaceful and fascinating experience.  You will see the play of the wind on the surface of the tidal waters and the fronds of the grasses in the marsh.  Reflections of light, dance, shimmer and change with each breath of wind. The silence is ocassionally broken by the cry of foraging birds or the sudden splash of fish jumping out of the water.

San Elijo Evening 11×14 oil on panel

image

by San Diego Plein Air Painter, Ronald Lee Oliver

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After the Rains ~ Plein air Painting at the San Diego River

After the Rains ~ Plein air by Ronald Lee Oliver

The above painting, “After the Rains,” was completed and signed in the field on Saturday, the 9th of May 2015.  I painted this as my part of a plein air painting demo, where I was involved as part of a team of plein air painters from the San Diego Plein Air Painters Meetup Group. We were helping to commemorate the San Diego River Days Festival, which takes place each year, raising money and awareness about conserving the River and its wetlands .

This painting demonstrates a few principles of an effective plein air painting:

  • simplicity of design
  • balanced composition
  • colors and values true to the subject
  • atmospheric perspective
  • suggested (and not rendered) imagery
  • confident brush strokes
  • mystery

…the latter being that elusive quality that teases the viewers mind by allowing them to “fill in the blanks” and resolve the story of the image with their own narrative.  There’s nothing more satisfying for the mind than solving a puzzle, so I’m a big proponent of “allowing the paint to be paint” and the brush strokes to suggest form rather than dictate it.  This allows the mind to engage and play with the imagery and have a satisfying experience that provides new discoveries with each viewing.

Here’s a few pics of me at the easel, talking “plein air” during my demo.

Talking about pre-painting considerations.
Talking about pre-painting considerations.
Pointing out the Perspective of Clouds
Pointing out the Perspective of Clouds

The painting, finished and signed in the field

The painting, finished and signed in the field