Advice & Guidance

Painting En-Plein Air with Mo Teeuw

21st March 2021 Estimated reading time: 3 mins

SAA Professional Artist, Mo Teeuw is known for her beautiful, dramatic skies and atmospheric landscape paintings – many of which are painted en plein air. So who better to ask for their top tips and techniques for getting the best out of your time outside.

Here are Mo’s dos and don’ts for the ultimate en plein air experience…

“One thing all plein air artists would agree on is that the experience of painting outside is essential to their own work. It enhances our powers of observation and forces us to work quickly.

I usually complete a painting in one session, whereas some artists will start a work on location, and add the finishing details in the studio and others just use their sketches as reference for larger studio works.”

However, you decide to work here are some top tips for working outside:

Try to minimise your kit. This will help you get to and from your location with minimal effort, and also open up a range of places that would be inaccessible if you’re lugging lots of kit to and from your car. It is worth investing in a pochade that will fit onto a lightweight camera tripod. Slightly heavier is a field easel – this will hold brushes and tubes and the canvas can be left on it for transporting home.

You don’t have to work quickly and apply lots of paint. This is a skill that will develop through experience over time. Be thoughtful, take it slowly, observe closely and build layers up gradually. The more you practice, the better you will get at making carefully chosen, efficient marks rather than applying too much.

Overworking the paint will result in muddy colours. Start with thin washes of your dark tones. Don’t apply thick paint until you are sure you will not need to revisit that part of the painting again.

Decide on what and where you want to paint before leaving home.
Many an hour has been wasted looking for the ideal spot – you’ll rarely find it. Just because a scene is beautiful does not mean that it will translate well into a painting…what really matters is how you respond to the subject. My mantra is “it’s not what you paint but how you paint it”.

If you feel more comfortable, try to position yourself against a wall or object that will prevent people from coming up and looking over your shoulder. Earphones whether connected or not will put people off trying to talk to you. Also, avoid eye contact. If you keep your head down and look busy, folk will be discouraged from interrupting. If all this fails just smile politely and say “Sorry, I can’t talk right now as I only have a short time to get this done.”

If the light changes dramatically, you must decide whether to stick with your original concept or change it. But bear in mind, the light is likely to change again and you can’t keep altering the picture.

Take a photo of the scene you want to paint. Try cropping it and altering the proportions to those of your canvas. This is a great way to play around with composition. You could also use the photo as a reference if a lorry park straight in front of you or your subject moves away.

Don’t be anxious about the final result, just enjoy the experience and learn from it!

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