Despite the many frustrations of painting outdoors (or en plein air to give it its posh French title) I’ve always found it an absorbing and useful exercise. The weather is seldom cooperative, there’s always too much unnecessary equipment to lug around and one can spend far too long reconnoitring a suitable spot, but there’s nothing quite like painting outside all day, pretending to yourself that you’re following in the footsteps of of Monet and Pissarro. I always prefer painting outside as part of a group, as there’s usually a great sense of camaraderie with one’s fellow-painters, and the day often concludes with an amicable review in a nearby pub or tea-room.
One of my initial hang-ups about outdoor painting was being interrupted by members of the public, but in practice this has seldom been an issue. The majority of people don’t paint, so they tend to be polite and complimentary. I did once have a minor difficulty with a persistent woman on Streatham Common, who proclaimed that Jesus would be returning soon. The implication was that I’d be better off repenting forthwith, rather than wasting my efforts drawing, but after I nodded and smiled a few times she eventually wandered off to find some other hapless sinner.
I’ve enjoyed three Pirbright Art Club outdoor painting days this summer, with reasonably satisfying results at two of them: Guildford Castle and St. Nicholas Church, Pyrford. My efforts at the third venue, Stoke Mill House, were dire enough to be subsequently interred under two coats of gesso.
Temperatures were around 30C on both days, which meant shady locations were at a premium. I used acrylic paint, with its inherent problem of rapid drying in hot weather, although I prefer to add plenty of water rather than a retarder to counteract this (despite many attempts I’ve yet to successfully master the use of oil paints for working outdoors). Both paintings are unfinished and I’m inclined to leave them that way, although I may develop the Pyrford one into a separate studio painting at a future date.