Strategies for the Art of Outdoor Painting

Strategies for the Art of Outdoor Painting. For many of us, painting art outdoors is addicting but with benefits. On-site, you can see a lot in the landscape that the camera cannot capture. Even if you don’t like walking around with lighting that changes every hour, those changing conditions force you only to include the essentials – a real plus when you are tempted to add unnecessary details as a painter. But there are drawbacks to working outdoors. It can make you feel lazy about the composition. Another exploratory miniature sketch might have made a better design, but you skipped it because it would have stolen your brush time. 

Another risk is coming under the temptation of light effects. Capturing the feel of a foggy summer day is a classy endeavor, but perhaps you would have had a more solid painting if you had spent more time 3D drawing on your compositionally. After all, when painting outdoor, you could easily ignore the problems you encounter, such as B. the need to work out spatial relationships. They tell yourself you are only making a sketch, but ignoring the problems makes you a master artist. Many outdoor painters find the studio to be the perfect place to solve problems when painting outdoors.

Set learning goals

I tell students that they should have a purpose when they go painting. For our current discussion, this aim would be to collect reference material for a studio painting. However, it’s just as important to have a goal for your studio work. Simply copying your outdoor art won’t solve your problems or improve your painting skills. Your studio goal could be one of the following:

The aim of the study: to create a larger version

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so excited by the variety of subjects that I’ve tried to put everything on a 9 x 12 platter. There’s no way to squeeze the grandeur of the Grand Canyon (or a panorama) into a small format.


Do several small color studies and take photos for details. Then create a larger panorama piece in the studio, maybe 12 x 24 or 12 x 36, that will allow you to include the elements you want and still give the main subject room to breathe.

Aim of the study: try a different medium

Art of Outdoor Painting

Sometimes a medium is better suited to certain topics than others. Oil, for example, is great for the subtle, blended effects seen in a slow stream. However, with oil paints, I find it difficult to point to the different layers I see there – creek bed, water, reflections, and leaves are floating on the surface – especially when I paint directly what they are like most of the painters work in the open air. On the other hand, Pastel is a natural product for layering and watercolor, as it dries faster and makes layering easier in the field.


Make small outdoor art studios using pastel shades or watercolors to capture the layers of the river. Then go back to the studio to paint the oil scene indirectly and let the paint dry between coats. You can end up using looser handling of the oil to create gradient effects.

Solve a design problem

For me, one of the hardest problems to solve outdoors is determining the design. I’m so fascinated by color effects that design takes a back seat. I don’t completely ignore the composition, but I usually resort to a formula, like an S-curve, to guide the viewer through the painting. How trivial it is! I know I could do better if I thought more about composition, but color is my focus.


Do a color study, but also take photos of different areas of the scene and from different angles. When you’re back in the studio, check if any of the photos suggest a better design. Grab a pad of newsprint and charcoal and explore different design options before settling on one.

Also Watch: Educational Videos

Aim of the study: solve a color problem

Sometimes I miss the harmony of colors. It may be because I’m not aware of changing lighting conditions or trying new colors on my palette. Sometimes the color doesn’t seem “real” because I wasn’t paying attention to things that might add to the illusion of the room like reflected or reflected light.


In the studio, take a long piece of writing, snap it into six boxes, and paint six little stories of your field art. Use different color palettes based on your knowledge of color harmony and color dynamics in the landscape. Once you’ve found a pallet that’s right for you, start making your studio piece.

The aim of the study: to create a piece with more interest

Sometimes I can capture the element that got me excited about the landscape, but the rest of the painting is “blah.” I could try adding more interest to the piece in the field, but it’s often best to start over and use the failed painting as a reference.


First, decide what the painting that isn’t working is about. There are many ways to enhance a painting, but most solutions fall into three categories: design, color, or marking. Each category leaves a lot of room for exploration, so be sure to try every solution you can think of in the studio.

Aim of the study: to create a summary of several studies

The combination of studies from different places and times can give full voice to a weakly expressed concept in each study. For example, near my home in Arizona, there is a beautiful, peaceful stream with a waterfall and rapids. I have painted several paintings along its banks in different places and at different times of the year. However, none of these efforts created the feeling I was trying to express, so I took pieces from different sketches to get a better result.


Create color studies and drawings, and take photos. Then combine their best components for more satisfying studio work.

From outside into the studio

Inspirational study of oil

Over the years, I had done some studies on the banks of a nearby creek, but I had never captured the full feel of the water and the canyon through which it flows. Spring Shallows is one of my studies. I liked the feel of the underwater rocks in the shallow water and thought this piece could inspire a good studio painting, especially if it includes more of the canyon.

A study by the small waterfall

With my painting studio in mind, I went there to do some 6×8 oil studies. Picture 2 is the study of the waterfall falling from the top of the canyon.

Studying by the small brook

In the end, I chose not to use my next study of the 6 x 8 oil range of the stream under the water as I favored my original 9 x 12 study. However, I used the smaller study as a reference for the exposed strip of land with vegetation.

Field sketch

While I was there, I also made carefully drawn pencil sketches of the key features and added notes about the colors and values ​​I observed. The sketch in Figure 4 shows the waterfall.

Miniatures of the design

I worked with a type of idea in my sketchbook.

Set up the studio

Before I rolled out the first brushstroke for my studio painting, I put together my reference material. I uploaded my photos to my computer tablet, which I attached to a gooseneck arm to see them alongside my oil sketches, all of which are positioned to the right of my easel. My pencil sketches, not visible in picture 6, are attached to the wall to the left of my easel.

Painting studio

I painted the waterfall with my rich outdoor reference material (image 7; oil on linen, 36 x 36). Toning the cover with natural earth red assisted me in realizing the effect of sunk rocks shining in the sun. My drawing of the falls helped recreate the angles and crevices of the waterfall rocks, and I referred to my oil study for color notes. I’ve made sure to deviate from my color references if necessary to harmonize the colors.

Think about the future

Some of these study goals require planning before entering the field. For example, if you want to create a detailed studio painting of trees, you need to draw trees from life. With that in mind, all you could do was take a sketchpad and leave your oil paints at home. On the other hand, if you want to solve color problems in the studio, your field kit can consist of a small paint box and some 5 x 7 panels for quick color studies.

Whatever your goal, I advise you not to be content with extracting your previous outdoor art but rather to collect new material with a specific project in mind. It allows you to focus your work outdoors and increase your chances of satisfaction in the studio.