Painting On Location – Stop Avoiding It!

We all know that painting on location is an exhilarating and rewarding experience. So you’ve got up your courage and you’re determined to go paint en plein air! Brava! But then…you don’t. 


And then you feel like rubbish about not going out to paint. Am I right?

Here are five obstacles that may come up to prevent you from getting out and painting on location and ways to find your way over/around them.

Painting on location - overwhelming landscape

1. Feeling Overwhelmed 

Painting outdoors can be a sensory overload with an over-abundance of possible subjects to paint. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed initially and so you may just give up before you’ve even got started! To combat this, start small – both in size of paper and in what you paint. Rather than going for the entire panorama, choose a simple subject. This can be a single tree or one building in a field.

Pay attention to what stopped you and focus on capturing that, and that only. Maybe it was the pattern of the cast shadow on a building or the contrast of a single red poppy in a field of green. Just because you’re in a gorgeous landscape doesn’t mean you can’t paint a few wildflowers up against a stone wall. Remember, much of the joy of painting on location lies in immersing yourself in the process of painting and being in a flow state. 

Painting on location - fear of an audience

2. Fear of an Audience

It’s totally understandable to be self-consciousness about painting in public. The thought of passersby observing your work can be daunting. Overcoming this fear requires a shift in mindset. Remind yourself that you are the one out there painting the scene. Most people will admire and appreciate what you’re doing.

And if they don’t, remind yourself that you aren’t there to do a perfect painting. You’re out there to learn by doing, to learn to see more, to learn more about yourself and the way you work.

To ease into painting in public, start by finding quieter locations with fewer onlookers. If you have a garden or backyard, this is a great place to start. As your confidence grows, gradually venture into busier areas.

Painting on location - Students in my Yorkshire Dales workshop
Students in my Yorkshire Dales workshop

3. Lack of a Painting Buddy

Having a companion on your plein air painting adventures can make the experience more enjoyable and provide a sense of security. A painting buddy gives motivation to go painting on location whereas you, on your own, will easily find excuses not to go out painting!

If you don’t have a friend interested in joining you, consider joining a local art group that goes painting on location regularly eg once a week. Another option is to take a workshop focused on plein air painting. Both of these options provide the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded artists and share the experiences of painting together.

Alternatively, embrace solitude and relish the tranquility that painting alone can bring. Put a date in the calendar and keep it! Remember, plein air painting is ultimately about your personal connection with your subject.

Painting on location - packing too much equipment

4. Too Much Equipment

The prospect of lugging around a multitude of painting supplies can be discouraging. You quit before you’ve started. Painting en plein air doesn’t require an extensive array of tools. Simplify your setup. What do you really need?

Paint in your backyard and take only the bare minimum – an easel, board, paper, a small selection or set of pastels, and a sketchbook (for thumbnails of course!). You’ll soon discover what’s missing or if you can actually pull something together with this minimum number of supplies. This lighter kit means you can move about easily and will enjoy getting our to paint.

Being weighed down by unnecessary equipment is a complete drag! Remember, simplicity of materials can foster creativity and freedom in your artistic expression.

Painting on location - overcast weather in Newcastle

5. Bad Weather

You’re planning to go out painting when the morning of the day, the weather turns colder than you expected and you might be tempted to say, Um, not today. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, and inclement conditions can easily deter you from going to paint on location. However, stick to your commitment to go paint! If it’s colder, take a sweater! If rain is expected, consider finding a place that’s under a shelter. Remember, you can always sketch rather than doing a full set up with pastels or paint. Overcast weather can present unique opportunities for capturing atmosphere and mood.

Remember that plein air painting isn’t about creating an amazing painting. It’s about being outside, seeing deeply, and painting your experience. So go create some moody skies! 

By understanding and addressing these five common obstacles to painting on location, you’ll be more inclined to bite the bullet and get out painting. Remember, plein air painting is an art form that celebrates the beauty of nature and capturing fleeting moments in time. Embrace the adventure, enjoy the process, and let the world see you out there creating. So, gather your courage, pack your essential supplies, and go forth to paint en plein air!

Until next time!


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4 thoughts on “Painting On Location – Stop Avoiding It!”

  1. I agree with all your tips. The physical part of plein air has had an effect on me personally so I’ve resigned myself to shorter sessions but that’s ok. Just getting out there is what’s most important. You cannot replace the experience of painting en plein air. It improves your observation skills and makes you a better painter.

    1. I’m glad to hear you’ve adjusted to your own needs MaryAnn. And yes, just getting out there is what counts. Outcome doesn’t matter. What matters is the experience of being in those minutes. There really is nothing like it!! And as you say, the learning is irreplaceable!

  2. Gail, this was just the nudge (kick in the seat of the pants!) that I needed. I am going by the lake today. I will start with sketching to remain small and unnoticed. I haven’t met any artist friends here yet, but it is good to be alone. If I were invisible, I’d be out there all the time. This blog spoke to me, so I will catch you later. I’ll be at the lake. Thank you, Gail! 🙂

    1. How was the lake Noreen? I’m delighted this post came at such an opportune time Noreen. I smiled when I read “If I were invisible, I’d be out there all the time.” so it sounds this is your biggest challenge? I have to say over the past couple of days, my students here on my Yorkshire Dales workshop have pretty much heard only comments of amazement. People really will admire you for being out there!!

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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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