Plein air painting intrigues and intimidates the heck out of me.  I thoroughly enjoy the time out in nature painting en plein air, but I end up moaning with frustration as to painting what is in front of me.

When it comes to painting outside I get so overloaded with “information” that I just freeze up and have no idea how to proceed.  But I’ve never been one to quit easily, so I’m inching my way into plein air painting very, very gently.  I hope that others who likewise struggle may find this beginner’s approach an encouragement.
I got the notion one afternoon this past week, to try “plein air” close to home.  We’re talking VERY close to home, just a few paces out my front door.  I chose a little succulent plant off my wrought iron plant-stand, placed it on the sidewalk and plopped myself down on the ground next to it.
With my pochade box in my lap, I proceeded to paint this simple composition.  By choosing just the plant, I could control how much/or little information I was dealing with.  Here are the illustrated and annotated baby-steps I took:

  1. As you can see, my little succulent plant was dramatically backlit by the sun.  If I’d known better I would have waited later in the day to paint, as the sun was sizzling hot and bright.  I realized that these are the types of things plein air painters learn by experience. succulent-still-life-1
  2. Here’s my pochade box with my two colors of paint, a warm and cool yellow, red and blue.  And white of course, since I paint with gouache. That’s a sealed and primed piece of cardboard with texture that you see taped to my pochade box.

3. Next I toned my board with red-orange which really worked out well for this piece.  Gouache dries so so quickly that I was able to paint over it immediately.
4. Below you can see how far I progressed with my painting out-of-doors, not bad, about 90% completed.  I had to get out of the heat at this point as I was practically blinded by the scalding sun, so the rest of the painting was finished up inside at my art desk.  But I did it!  Some may consider this a still life, but for this painter, it was my entrée into the world of plein air. And I can’t wait to try more.  Just one little baby-step at a time. : )
And here’s my finished piece below – “Succulent Sunbath” – just a wee bit more paint and some strokes of my customary india ink.


Artist/Guest Author: Joanie Springer, a late-blooming artist, loves to paint with opaque watercolor / gouache as if it were oil paint, and archivally prepped cardboard is one of her favorite supports.  See more of her art, art tips, and FREE art tutorial at her website:
Thank you Joanie for sharing another great guest post. I hope you all enjoyed Joanie’s beginning approach to plein air painting!
You can see more art on my website,, and let’s meet on Facebook  Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page, on Twitter, Google Plus and on PinterestBe sure and check out and my fine art prints and notecards on Fine Art America.! ~Lori

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