I recently received a question from a new plein air painter who asked why his paintings always looked so "washed out". What was he doing wrong he asked. To truly understand and dissect the problem we would have to see the paintings in person to get a better understanding and know for sure. However there are several issues that may result in having our paintings look "washed out" when we take them back to the studio.
Here is my reply to Roger:
Thanks for your question about why your plein air paintings turn out
looking washed out. I am assuming you are using oil paint? If so, it
may be that the painting surface you are using is too absorbent - let's
start with that. If you are using panels with an acrylic gesso coating
you need at least 3 layers of gesso to get a surface that doesn't
absorb the paint too much. I had this same experience of washed out
paintings when I first started plein air years ago. The gesso was too
thin and my paint was being absorbed like a sponge - no matter what I
did, nothing looked good.
Try using a different panel to paint on - splurge on a really good panel such as oil primed linen from Sourcetek or other suppliers of quality panels.
There is one other common problem experienced by new plein air painters and that is, adding too much white pigment to our paint mixtures in an effort to "capture the light" - the results are usually not what we have in mind and can result to chalky, opaque and washed out looking paintings without that seductive glow we seek.
Another very common problem experienced by plein air painters (including seasoned pros) is the problem of paintings appearing too dark. We have a whole page devoted to the dark painting problem - click here to read it.