Now that we have more daylight and warmer weather, it is time to start thinking about getting outside and painting! If you have never tried en plein air painting, or in other words, painting outdoors, now is the time. Some great places around the DC metro area include, but are not limited to,
- Tidal Basin (especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom)
- Any of the monuments, but I am partial to the Jefferson and Lincoln (my husband and I were married at the Jefferson).
- The National Zoo
- C & O Canal
- Old Anglers Inn, Potomac
- Old Town Alexandria
- Antique Row Kensington
- Fletcher’s Boat House
- National Cathedral
- Farmer’s Markets
- Glen Echo Park
- Brookside Gardens
When spending a day painting outside, it is important to make sure you have everything you need. There is nothing more frustrating than driving to your location, setting up shop, and then realizing you forgot something important. The day should be spent focusing on your painting, not ruined by forgetting to pack something. I have made a list of tools and materials that are helpful.
- A French Easel
- Paints i.e. watercolors, oils, acrylics etc. and any painting materials
- Painting surface i.e. paper, canvas, board, etc.
- Sunblock, hat, and/or umbrella to protect from the sun.
- Water, both for drinking and watercolors if needed
- Portable Stool (if you prefer to sit)
- Phone/Headphones. These are for multiple purposes, I like to listen to music or podcasts when painting and the camera feature is helpful if you want to capture a certain light and/or want to continue working once you leave. Lastly, it can be helpful to tune out passersby. I find it fun to talk with people sometimes, but if it is a crowded place, it can start to get hard to concentrate.
- Drop cloth if you need to make sure the ground stays clean (depends on location)
- Plastic bag for trash
A few more helpful tips when en plein air painting include finding a good composition, dealing with the changing light, and inquisitive spectators. When given such a vast amount of information in a landscape, it is important to keep it simple. Remember, you don’t have to paint everything you see. This is especially important if you only have one day to complete the painting. Pick and choose what you want to focus on, and stick with that.
Dealing with changing light is one of the hardest aspects of painting outdoors. It is important to get your basic shapes in first. Light and shadows will go in towards the end of the painting, followed by details.
Typically when people stop and take a look at your work, they are gracious. However, occasionally you will get someone who wants to talk, or even worse, a critic. Either way, be courteous, but curt, saying something along the lines of “sorry, I can’t talk right now, I don’t have much time left and this ___ takes all my attention” gets the point across. If not, refer to the headphones in the list above.