Kelly's art in the Lost River Range, Idaho.

Kelly Ann Sheridan shares tips for creating in the outdoors

You may remember Kelly Ann Sheridan’s work from her piece, “Plein Air Painting Road Trip: Western National Parks and National Forests” or from a gallery she shared last year called “Melting Landscapes.” Kelly takes inspiration from her subjects – the natural world – and uses brilliant color and paint strokes to convey action. Below, the artist shares some tips for Plein Air beginners or people who want to paint what they’re looking at on the spot.

I have used all sort of materials of super high and super low quality. They all work, but the frustration with material performance that sometimes comes with the cheapest option is not worth saving a couple of dollars. I buy all my art supplies from Dick Blick or Cheap Joes because they have good deals and ship quickly. Michaels and similar stores are convenient but more expensive than buying online. I don’t have a locally owned art store near me but that’s also a good option.

Capturing Idaho's Lost River Range.
Capturing Idaho’s Lost River Range.

#1 Go for Watercolor!

If you want to try out Plein Air painting but don’t have all the materials yet, bring a watercolor set. It comes with all the colors you need and it’s much cheaper than buying individual tubes of paint. I would highly recommend buying watercolor paper as opposed to normal sketchbook paper. Watercolors on normal drawing paper are not very vibrant, they don’t soak into the paper well, and they warp the paper. All very frustrating qualities. Even my Elementary school students get frustrated with cheap paper when painting with watercolors. I would just buy a little sketchbook that is made with watercolor paper.

Supplies suggestions: Prang Watercolor Sets,

Canson or Strathmore Watercolor Sketchbooks

For brushes, I think the store brand sets are perfect for starting out. I still use them too. Look for smooth, synthetic brush tips and not the really scratchy, stiff ones. If you find you need something else then you can buy nicer individual brushes to add to your set.

#2 No Paint At All

Bring a sketchbook and some pens or colored pencils. That way, you don’t have to fuss with bringing paint, water, containers, etc. If you use only pencil or pen, it’s a great way to study the value of that you see (lightness or darkness) rather than the hue (the color). It simplifies the amount of information you need to observe for your art. Color can be really frustrating if you haven’t had some practicing mixing paint to be the actual colors that you see before you.

Supplies Suggestions: Prismacolor Pens or Colored Pencils

Kelly uses pre-ripped paper to pain on trail.
Kelly uses pre-ripped paper to pain on trail.

#3 Work Small

I alway bring pre-ripped paper in 3 sizes: 2”x5”, 4”x6”, and 9.5”x7”. It takes me about 1 hour and 30 minutes on average to finish a 9”x7.5” gouache painting. Start with smaller paper so that finishing a piece doesn’t become a burden due to loss of light, energy, or time. If that’s too quick, go bigger!

#4 What is alluring to you?

Look around you. What is THE MOST alluring, intriguing aspect of the landscape around you? Is it the moss growing around a tree trunk, the rocks lining the river’s edge, the distant pale blue mountains? Don’t try to paint everything around you. Often that’s too much and too overwhelming. Choose to look at what makes you feel happy and peaceful and paint that. That’s what will lead you to the best composition for your painting.

#5 Inspiration from Other Artists

I get inspired by other painters all the time. The landscape is inspiring itself but it’s so helpful to see how other artists have tackled painting outside. It’s not “cheating” or “faking it” to get ideas from other artists. It’s being resourceful and seeking out ways to interpret what you see artistically. As long as you don’t exactly copy someone else’s composition, you’re good. I get a lot of inspiration from artists on Instagram. Here are a few of my favorites: Heather Day, Mary Jabens , Rachel Pohl,  and Erin Hanson .


About the Artist

Follow Kelly on Instagram @kellyannsheridanart and check out her plein air paintings in her portfolio.

One comment

  1. Peg

    Great article for those starting out painting outside! Love the photos, too!


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