Plein Air to Studio - How to create a larger studio painting from your plein air sketch

Plein air to Studio - 3 Steps to your studio painting –  how to get inspired by switching back and forth between mediums (oil to pastel and then back to oil) – I call this the Russian Doll Process.  This isn't the traditional approach - just one that I have used and enjoy and want to share with you as something to try.

Most plein air painters prefer to paint outdoors in Nature and usually paint smaller panels for that reason.  Every once in a while, one of our small plein air paintings calls out for further exploration as a larger studio painting.  This is the start of a thoughtful process of carefully planning the composition,  paint surface and the feeling you want to convey in the painting,  

The bigger studio painting will be its own creation, not just a slavish copy of the smaller plein air study.  In addition to looking at the original plein air painting for inspiration, we may also use photographs for additional bits of information – and we may use other paintings, drawings or field notes done at the same location. 

For myself, I have experimented with the following process over the years and find it to be a lot of fun as well as producing a worthwhile studio painting. 

This process involves changing our brainwaves a little by switching mediums in an intermediate painting just for fun and to get at more information and expression.  Although I am primarily an oil painter, I also play with pastels from time to time and really enjoy their freshness and vibrant color. Pastels also bring out a childlike delight in playing with crayons.   If you are comfortable with watercolor, you could use that medium for the second step of this process which I like to call The Russian Doll Process to a Studio Painting.

Step 1 - Your original plein air painting

Take the plein air painting that inspires you and that you want to do a studio painting from - set it up near your easel and get back into what it felt like to paint that piece on location - feel the earth under your feet, feel the heat of the late afternoon (or the cool of the morning) - remember what inspired you about that scene and made you want to paint it in the first place.

The above photo shows my selected plein air oil painting study which was done on location in Southern Utah near Zion National Park.  I liked the composition and felt that it would make a good subject for a larger painting.  I was particularly interested in exploring the cloud shadows on the landscape of this size as well as the drama of the distant rain storm in addition to the colors and texture of the Kanab Plateau mesa area.

Step 2 - Switch from Oil to pastel (or watercolor) and do your 2nd painting using the new medium

The above photo shows my second quick painting done in pastel.  

Do a second painting using  your changed medium (either pastel or watercolor) – for me it was done in pastel – in switching the size format a bit I found that it created a more dramatic presentation of the mesa area – I also found that having the fore and mid ground colors lighter, I was able to better create the drama of aerial perspective by using the cloud shadows to give a feeling of space.  This aspect hadn’t been apparent to me in doing the original plein air oil painting.  Now I could focus on this better and the pastel version helped me to get clear on this aspect.

Take your time on your second painting, it will speak to you in other ways now that you are removed from the original outdoor location and all the distractions presented, from the weather, to the bugs, to the passersby who visit your easel uninvited.


Step 3 - Do your Studio Painting in Oil

Get ready to have fun with your large canvas and switch back to oils, use big brushes, take your time and keep it fresh - By using your 2nd painting in the different medium, as well as the original oil plein air study, you can now take all you have learned by going through this 3 step process of plein air to studio - Enjoy!

Here is my final studio version of Kanab Plateau, Utah - painted in oil on stretched canvas - size is 36" x 18".  I couldn't have got there without step 2!

Please share your own experiments with us! Fill out the easy submission below and include up to 4 photos.  Let us know if this process helped you in any way....We learn together...

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