By Kathy Halbert

All mediums: note that some links indicate a particular medium. I tried to choose links or articles for the General section that would be pertinent to any medium, if read between the lines. I happened upon many excellent articles by Richard McKinley (RMcK), master pastelist, on Artist’s Network. The articles even in the Pastel section are worth reading by any plein air painter. Fun to read: (RMcK): on-location-in-tuscon. Click on the underlined for each link.



Tips When Standing During Painting: There are a few things that artists can do when positioned in front of their easel that will help keep them limber:

  • Lower the height of the painting so that you are not reaching above shoulder height. This can greatly help with shoulder and neck strain.
  • Position a small block in front of the easel upon which to place a foot when painting. Periodically shift the block from the right to left side of the easel to alternate skeletal pressure. Artists that suffer from lower back pain have found relief by utilizing this alternating block/foot method.
  • Remind yourself to frequently step back from the easel. This serves the dual purpose of giving you a different perspective on your painting -as well as muscle movement.

Tips When Sitting During Painting: There are also ways to keep yourself more comfortable when sitting to paint:

  • Position your body at a 45-degree angle to the painting with your painting arm leading. This provides more mobility of movement.
  • A high stool positioned in front of an easel can make this seated position very similar to standing.
  • If lifting your arm is difficult, place the painting in your lap and hold the top of the painting with your other hand. This may sound like a cumbersome position, but can be very useful when painting en plein air with pastel.

You can also sit in a low chair with your pastels arranged on the ground next to you (within easy arms’ reach) while the painting rests in your lap. No easel is required for this setup, making it quick and easy.

  • (optional) Begin with value sketches. : en-plein-air-part-1-the-field-sketch, (RMcK)
  • General process: the-importance-of-the-field-sketch excerpt (RMcK): For the field sketch, work small. Simplify the elements of the scene into a few major abstract shapes. Associate a color and value sense to those shapes. Then expand on that foundation, building form and texture until the painting reads well. Let the camera record detail. Spend your time asking yourself, “What is it I can record that the camera cannot?” It is that information that makes someone an en plein air Don’t get bogged down in technique; be messy if need be; it’s the information you are recording that is precious. These painting sketches may be winners and worthy of framing, or serve as reference back in the studio.
    • Capture the big picture first. Determine the center of interest.
    • Paint in scene lightly using a small brush (or for pastels, vine charcoal, hard pastel or pencil) if desired, to determine the basic outline.
    • Then try to paint in large block-ins. Use big brushes or strokes at first.
    • Use more details at the focal point only or at a few points to create believability.
    • Do not overwork.
    • Try to capture the feeling of space and depth, often missing from photographs (use aerial perspective, etc)


Pastel: all links here for RMcK, Richard McKinley on Artist’s Network

Oils (or acrylics):

Oils and Pastels

Additional Website Links and Notes