Tips for Painting en Plein Air with Kathy Dereli

The French term plein air means out of doors and refers to the practice of painting an artwork out in the open, from start to finish. Plein air is a method of painting that can seem quite daunting to the beginner or even for the more experienced painter, so we sat down with professional artist Kathy Dereli to get her best tips for painting in the great outdoors!

kathy derli plein air

How do you find the perfect spot to paint outdoors? Do you try and stay away from crowds or do you prioritise the best view regardless of how busy it is?

When I am trying to find a spot, it’s usually about what looks best and where can I reasonably stand for the duration of the painting and not get sunburn! I usually position myself somewhere reasonably unobtrusive and not in the way of traffic but I haven’t (yet) had bad experiences with people looking in on my paintings. People are most often politely interested and will ask a question or two and then carry on with their day.

What do you need to consider weather-wise? Does the sun or wind speed up drying? Would you avoid certain materials in the cold?

My favourite weather for painting is a nice bright day, if only we had more of those! Because I paint outdoors in oils drying times are not much of a problem.

Do you have any portable lightweight materials you’d recommend?

Getting the right pochade box changed my practice a lot. Its always a toss up between lightness and carry capacity. My current box is altered to attach to a standard camera tripod which is a nice light weight solution.

kathy dereli - plein air 3

Easel or no easel? What’s your favourite thing to lean on?

I always prefer to paint standing up so as to be able to stand back. One thing I always try to do is not set myself up in a place where taking a single step back will drop me into a canal since it’s something I reflexively do! Before I started using an integrated pochade box I used a portable aluminium easel which was really great and a bit more flexible for larger canvasses.

There isn’t likely to be a table anywhere, so how do you juggle your materials/brush? Any unusual tips?

Hanging a bag of useful items from the protuberances of your easel is always good (as long as it’s not too heavy so as not to break the easel). I try to keep to a style which requires minimal extra stuff, a brush in one hand, a piece of rag in another and that should be fine for me. I have eliminated solvent from my regular oil painting style, which is not for everybody but is entirely feasible for quick paintings.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about plein air painting for the first time?

Don’t put it off. For a long time I was a bit afraid of starting, just going out and trying plein air painting before I eventually plucked up courage and discovered what a really fun and challenging thing it actually is.

Expect to take a while getting your setup just right. Part of painting outdoors is working out how a method of painting outdoors that’s best for you. You bring your own ideas of practice based on painting in a controlled environment in the studio or at home and some of them work, others don’t. I found that a lot of time at the start was just about refining my practice and getting it to a point where I could carry out a painting continuously without running into unexpected problems (just expected ones).