Find something to paint! My two pieces

Find Something To Paint En Plein Air Every Time!

Have you heard the saying, you can find something to paint no matter how impossible it may seem? 

I put this to the test yesterday.

It was overcast. It was so cold that my fingers were about to mutiny and drop the pastel I was holding. The rain was on its way sure as anything. So what was I doing outside painting en plein air? That was surely the question I was asking myself yesterday!

And the answer was that Mel Williamson and I had agreed to paint together on my next visit to Salt Spring Island. And this was it! Although the weather had been perfect a few days earlier, that was not the case on this day. Ohhhhh no! Yet, in spite of the inclement weather, we were determined to paint! 

Grabbing coffee in the village of Ganges, we made a plan. Our first action was to find a protected location where we’d be sheltered from the approaching rain. We also knew that driving around looking for the “perfect” place was a waste of time: We needed to get painting! 

I knew that the local credit union had an overhang in its back parking lot. We decided to set up there and then find something to paint. We both knew that, if we put our minds to it and looked hard, we could find a subject!

Set up to paint in the back parking lot of Island Savings, Salt Spring Island
Set up to paint in the back parking lot of Island Savings, Salt Spring Island
Me painting with cap perched on my head!
Me painting with cap perched on my head!

It seemed an almost impossible task at first but, with determination, quiet, and deep looking, we each found something to paint. Knowing that no matter the outcome, we’d feel good having put paint to canvas and pastel to paper, we set to work. 

Unison Colour pastels used in The Red Shed
Unison Colour pastels used in The Red Shed

And even though our fingers were screaming for mercy (“We’re sooooo cold!!!!!), we decided to stick it out and do a second piece. Whhaaaaaat?? Crazy, I know but that’s what we did. And weren’t we pleased as punch when we were done?!

Find something to paint: Mel looking for another subject
Mel looking for another subject
Find something to paint: My second subject
My second subject
Unison Colour pastels used in my second painting
Unison Colour pastels used in my second painting which took about 15 minutes to paint!

I don’t know that either of us was happy with our painting results but that didn’t matter. We proved to ourselves that we could always find something to paint, even in the picturesque (that’s what Mel called it!) parking lot of the credit union!

“There is nothing too commonplace or humble to be included in the study of nature.”

~John F. Carlson

Tips On How To Find Something To Paint (Even When It Seems Impossible!)

1. Look for interesting patterns. Even if the scene in front of you doesn’t seem particularly interesting, if you look carefully (squint!), you can often find interesting shapes and patterns that may be worth painting. This search is particularly hard, and necessary, when painting on an overcast day, a day without the brilliance of sunlight to create obvious patterns of light and shadow. 

2. Crop close in. Look for an object with an interesting or unusual shape. Look for the corner of a building. Look for the curve of a fence, an architectural detail, a colourful sign. 

3. Keep an eye out for some unusual or bright colour. I saw the yellow rectangle behind a grouping of verticals and used it to show the pattern of the foreground tree trunks.

4. Be unafraid to bring different parts of the scene together. For instance, I saw the bright red of a building in the distance and brought it into the colour of the brown shed I was going to paint. I was attracted to the red colour but that red building was partially obscured by a pillar (and actually wasn’t that interesting except for the colour).

Find something to paint: The red shed, the shed I painted....and cars!
The red shed, the shed I painted….and cars blocking my view!

5. Be prepared to paint something that’s not in your usual repertoire of subjects. We were in a parking lot. We each considered painting a car which was certainly not among our favourite subjects!  Mind you, we also knew that the car might suddenly be driven away. Early on, there was a very cool-looking small bus that was definitely worth painting but after setting up our easels, the vehicle was gone.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of finding the “perfect” scene to paint, but this can lead to not painting at all. And that’s a bummer. 

It’s always better to paint something no matter the outcome, than to not paint! So, no excuses! You can find something to paint if you’re committed to the act of painting en plein air. And then, when you’re done, make sure to reward yourself for having found something to paint. High five!!

My two small pastel pieces
My two small pastel pieces

Do you paint en plein air? What do you do to find something to paint when a subject isn’t obvious?

And if you don’t paint on location, what’s the main thing that’s holding you back?

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. We were so busy painting and then chatting we forgot to take a selfie with the two of us. Grrrr!

PPS. Are you curious about Mel’s oil paintings?

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4 thoughts on “Find Something To Paint En Plein Air Every Time!”

  1. A few questions. Did you tone your papers before going out? Uart paper always curls on me, do you have a solution for that? And a much harded problem for me is what pastels do I put in my plein air box.
    Thank you Gail, I try and read as much as I can on plein air and good advice is much welcome.
    Rosemarie Crerar

    1. Hey Rosemarie, thank you for your questions!
      I don’t tone my papers – I create a dry underpainting with my pastels in the three main value areas that correspond with my thumbnail.
      Yes, UART curls – grrr – so I make sure I tape it down well to my board. Later, I tape it onto a piece of mat board and cover with glassine.
      I don’t choose pastels for plein air differently. I currently take my Unison Colour set and that’s it!

  2. Such good advice! I spend way too much time searching for that ‘perfect’ scene and that’s the most frustrating thing about PleinAire painting. You’ve just shown me good stuff’s right in front of me!

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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