sketch, sketchbook, plein air

How outdoor watercolor Sketching can Benefit everybody

A really fun and exciting activity for an artist is painting outside. It challenges you to paint fast and get the important values down as soon as possible, as the sun constantly changes the lighting of your reference. You just don’t have the time to waste time with unnecessary details in the beginning. But is watercolor good for outdoor sketching?

Watercolor is great for outdoor sketching, as it’s really easy to transport, dries fast and doesn’t need a lot of material etc. You can really do it anywhere as you don’t even need an aisle. All you need is a sketchbook and an outdoor painting set with a few brushes, watercolors, a palette and water.

There are still a lot of questions you might have. What could I paint, where could I paint, what do I have to watch out for and what are the difficulties?

Where should I paint?

The first thing you’ve got to think about is the lighting. What kind of scenery would you like to paint? Do you want a dark alley or a bright sea with a forest in the back? Just think about it for a moment. 

This is obviously important as you have to get out to paint at the right time. I would heavily suggest starting your outdoor painting journey in the daylight, as it’s way easier. In the dark, it’s difficult to get the colors right and it will get even darker way quicker.

So, for beginners I would recommend getting out of your house and just choosing a random spot. Like really really random. Just walk in any direction and stop somewhere. Then you look around and choose what you want to paint. It’s kind of a fun challenge that way.

If you’ve got something in mind that you would like to paint then go for it, of course. Just try everything out and see what you like more.

If you are already a bit advanced, you can challenge yourself even more, by painting while the sun goes down. You have to be really really quick as you’ve only got around 30 mins to get the shadows down. But don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t work out right away.

What are fun motives and scenes to paint?

There are a few classics to outdoor painting. The biggest classic would probably be mother nature. Just paint anything that’s out there. Animals, flowers, trees, rivers, seas, the sky, whatever. The motives are literally endless.

A fun thing I would recommend is to paint one spot regularly, like once or twice a year on pretty much set days or a set week. For example your house, a random house you like, a statue etc. 

This way, you will 1) see how much you improved over the time and 2) you will see how this certain object developed over time. Especially if you’ve got a house that could be very fun. You could hang every painting up in the hallway and see how your house developed over the past years by just walking a few steps

Where should I start?

Firstly you’ve got to take a really close look at what you’re painting. You’ve got to analyse it really deeply, as chances are high that the lighting might change drastically in the matter of a couple of seconds.

The next step is to break your motive down into large chunks of colors. To help with this you could squint your eyes a bit, so you can’t see the details anymore. This will make everything appear a bit blurry which will help you to simplify your painting.

Now that you’ve analysed the object intensely you will sketch out the painting very roughly, just so you get a feeling where everything is. This shouldn’t take you more than 2-3 minutes max as it’s really just about getting those rough proportions right. 

This is the part where you finally get to dip your brush into the paint and start. You will start with very light colors to get the values down immediately. Now you’re gonna layer the paint while moving into darker and darker colors. Watch out that you stick to those values that you analysed in the beginning.

While you get into the darks, the painting should slowly get together a bit. If you feel like you’ve finished the basic paint and colors, you can move on with the details. I would suggest mainly adding a lot of details like defined grass or cracks in a wall while your painting in the foreground. 

The further you get into the background, the less details you should add, while finally only adding the basic colors of a mountain in the back for example. This will give your painting a lot of depth which can really be a dealbreaker.

How can you keep it fun and challenging for yourself?

With outdoor painting, you’ve really got a variety of possible challenges to choose from. There are tons of ways to make your painting experience more interesting and fun.

You could for example walk up to a random person and ask them to give you a random place in the city that they really like, go there and paint it. This way you will meet tons of new and interesting people and you will connect some places in the city to certain people.

This is really a great way to find new spots in your town that you maybe haven’t even seen before but are really important and meaningful to another person.

The next way would be to give yourself a time limit. Either by going painting when the sun goes down, so you naturally don’t have too much time, regarding there being no light anymore, or you could just set yourself a timer on your phone.

That makes you focus on the fundamentals rather than unnecessary details. 

Another thing you could do is painting and walking simultaneously. You could just walk down the street or through a park, look at something and paint it while walking. As soon as you’re done with it, you look for the next thing and so on. But watch out that you don’t run into somebody.

Maybe you’ve seen a video on social media where someone draws a random stranger on the train and then shows this drawing to them. You could also do something like this. It’s really fun, because of the time aspect. You never know when the person is gonna leave the train. Do you have 5 minutes? Or do you have 30? You just never know.

Also it can really make a person’s day as it makes most people feel really appreciated. But watch out that you don’t come across as a stalker. As a thank you for being your motive, you could give them the painting and sign it in the corner (maybe even put your Instagram tag on there)

Why is painting outdoors more difficult and painting inside?

There are a lot of factors that play into that. Firstly you obviously have a more or less live motive that you’re painting. Obviously if it’s a rock it wont move much (mostly), but everything around it can.

At any moment the sun could be gone and the lighting would be completely destroyed or it could start to rain etc. There are just things that you can’t really impact and that can make your life hard.

But that’s a thing that you just have to accept and that adds to the challenge of painting outside in my opinion.

Also you can’t really just stop painting something and come back the next day. Chances are really high that a lot of factors are gonna be different than the day before. If you’re just using a picture as a reference, you aren’t gonna be having any worries, while real life can really change a lot in the matter of a day.

There could be a car that hasn’t been there before or a construction site or a tree has fallen over or the neighbour decided to cut down his hedge or the farmer decided to farm his crop field which 24 hours ago used to be your reference for your artwork.

You can see that it’s just this “either you get it done today or you probably never will” kind of thing, which I actually like, because it forces you to be finished with a painting and you won’t be wasting your time with trying to add this and that detail which will only make it worse.

What do you have to watch out for?

Lawnmowers. That’s it. Watch out for those evil creatures that will throw around grass that will land on your painting, stick to it and ruin everything. I mean it could maybe be a pretty cool effect and end up selling for 20 Million Dollars at some auction, but in most cases you will hate it.

Everything is on your painting, your water is dirty and your paints are mixed with grass. All in all keep an eye out for those.

Also you shouldn’t paint somewhere where there is a lot of dust etc. Like a construction site or something like that. That would have the same effect as previous.

2 thoughts on “How outdoor watercolor Sketching can Benefit everybody”

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