Plein air painting by British Plein Air member, Georgina Potter

Top artists from the British Plein Air Painters share their top tips for painting outdoors.

Ever since the invention of tubed paint in the late 1800s artists have been enjoying the freedom of creating work outside, from life, immersed in the landscape.

From Constable, Monet, Pissaro and Sisley through to more recent figures such as Ken Howard OBE RA and Fred Cumming RA, the process of working plein air has remained a relevant as ever.

In 2018 the British Plein Air Painters group was established to celebrate the artists working in this way here in the UK, a cohort who share a passion for painting outdoors, capturing the essence of their surroundings with freshness and energy.

Ahead of their third group exhibition (Royal Watercolour Society Gallery, 3-5 Whitcomb Street, London WC2H 7HA. October 31 to November 5, 2023) members of the British Plein Air Painters group share their top tips for artists looking to push their painting practice outside.


Haidee-Jo Summers ROI RSMA

Haidee-Jo Summers

'Getting your head in the right place is a huge part of plein air painting. Take the pressure off by not intending to make a gallery worthy painting when you go out to paint en plein air. Think of it as a learning exercise each time. Choose just one thing that you’d like to focus on and tell yourself ‘This is a study of…’

'For example, ‘this is a study of how to vary my greens’ or ‘this is a study of vehicles in contre-jour lighting conditions’.

'This can also help you know when you have finished i.e., when you have achieved your main objective.'

A painting on the easel by Haidee-Jo

Haidee-Jo is an editorial consultant and writes regularly for The Artist. She is also a judge for our annual TALP Open art competition.

You can see several articles by Haidee-Jo by clicking here as well as a selection of art materials reviews.

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David Curtis ROI, RSMA

David Curtis

'If possible, engage with the audience without losing sight of the job in hand. People soon realise you are absorbed in the painting process and move on. Also, spend no more than one to two hours in one sitting. After this time the subject is likely to have altered such that the initial appeal may have diminished markedly.'

David is an editorial consultant and writes regularly for The Artist, he is also head judge for our annual TALP Open art competition.

You can read a couple of articles by David by clicking here.

Sarah Manolescue AROI

Sarah Manolescue

'Work on the painting as a whole from start to finish. It’s easy to work away on one aspect and neglect the rest, but keep moving over the entire surface. If you mix a colour for one part, see where else you can use it in the painting before moving onto something else. It’ll save you time in the long run and you’ll end up with something much more cohesive in the end!'

A plein air painting by Sarah

Sarah has written several articles on plein air painting for The Artist and has featured in a series for professional artists by Sarah Edmonds. See more here.

Tom Stevenson ROI SWAc

Tom Stevenson

'Always try to do a quick drawing before you start to paint. This doesn’t need to be anything finished or beautiful, just a quick sketch to work out the important shapes, check proportions and sense check the chosen composition. Doing this in pencil quickly before you start can teach a lot about the subject and avoids silly mistakes once the paint comes out.'

Maria Rose AROI

Maria Rose

'To develop speed in painting outdoors, I have been using largely the same palette (set of colours) for years, for all subjects and this has helped my colour mixing become more intuitive and automatic. Spend time studying the colour wheel and learning how to use complimentary colours to desaturate your mixes to achieve a subtle, naturalistic palette.'

Maria's plein air work on the easel

Roy Connelly

Roy Connelly

'Don't sit or stand still for too long when you are painting on location. Walk away from your painting. Coming back and seeing it afresh it makes it easier to see what you are doing and, more importantly, what you have got wrong. Also, try to paint with the surface of the canvas in the shade. Painting with direct sunlight on the canvas can result in a painting that is too dark once you bring it inside.'

Mo Teeuw IEA

Plein air painting by Mo Teeuw

'Try not to set your sights too high, we learn a lot from our failures. Don’t lose sight of what attracted you to the subject. If the light changes dramatically then consider starting with a fresh board rather than chase the light. Set yourself a time limit of not more than two hours, this will help you to concentrate your focus and remove the temptation to fiddle with finer details.'

Mo has shared some of her artwork and video demonstrations here on Painters Online, click here to see more.

Adam Ralston ROI

Adam Ralston

'Take little notice of what the general public say whilst you’re out painting. A good way of blocking everything and anyone out is to wear headphones!'

A plein air cityscape by Adam

Valérie Pirlot AROI

Valérie Pirlot

'Finding the right subject is half the battle and my tip is to look at things in an abstract way. Rather than look for a pretty scenery, famous landmarks or a picture-perfect subject, look for beauty through its abstract quality. It doesn't matter what you paint, instead look for a pleasing combination shapes/colours/light that work as an abstract piece and will give great strength to your composition. You can be as detailed as you like with the finish result, but I found that the most successful paintings are usually those that start with strong shapes/colours/light concepts. This can be found anywhere and means sometimes the corner of bench catching the light might be more interesting to paint than the pretty church next to it. Be open-minded about what to paint and keep looking for beauty in the most unexpected places.'

Valérie writes regularly for Leisure Painter and you can follow several of her painting demonstrations by clicking here.

Georgina Potter

Georgina Potter

'I can’t live without my kitchen roll and spare plastic bags; plastic bags to make sure I take all my rubbish away with me and somewhere to put those pesky paint tubes that sometimes explode!'

For more about British Plein Air Painters please visit the website,

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