How to Paint Outdoors

Here I'm Painting a classic Maine cottage during the Ocean Park paint out.  I had piles of visitors at this location.

I’m painting a classic Maine cottage during the Ocean Park, Maine paint out. I had many visitors at this location.

I was talking to a student the other day about my experience learning how to paint outdoors. In my early days of painting en plein air I was simply trying to find out how to apply oil paint so it would stick on a canvas surface in freezing temperatures. I had problems when the wet paint I was applying would remove the existing paint on the surface of the canvas. I couldn’t get the paint to layer properly.  In addition to this technical aspect of paint handling, I was often overwhelmed by the amount of visual information that I encountered in the landscape. When on location there were way too many things that I wanted to paint.  I tried to get help and instruction from experienced painters that I knew. They offered a variety of advice, some helpful. But no one was painting exclusively outdoors.  They were all studio artists who did a little plein air painting in warm weather.

A quick value study and color poster painted on location in Hamilton House's formal garden.

A quick value study and color poster painted on location in Hamilton House’s formal garden.

Whenever I went out to paint I encountered the same situation.  What should I paint?  Where should I set up ? How much time do I spend hiking into a location?  What if the best spot is still ahead of me?  It was enough to drive me nuts!  I would see a lot of scenery that I liked but it didn’t look anything like the paintings that I wanted to paint. I often had visions of completed paintings  in my mind.  They were luminous and glowing. They were about mood and a deeper message, not how the light looked at a certain time of day.  I soon noticed that the time of day when I was usually out painting never offered a lighting situation that was close to what I saw in my minds eye. I realized I wanted to paint a message, not a depiction of a specific place.  I decided to look at as many landscape paintings as I could. The Hudson River painters; Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Frederick Church were painting something similar to what I was seeing.  The Luminists looked like they were painting some of my internal scenes. After much searching, when I encountered Aldro Hibbard and the Russian Impressionists I felt like I’d found my tribe.   The Russians and Hibbard were the most helpful as they were dealing with snow and lighting conditions that I faced every year during New England winters. I knew they were going outdoors to paint, so I figured if they could do it and paint it; well, so could I. I started to look at all the work they produced. It  made me so happy to see a painting of the rural Russian countryside on a cloudy day in winter. It was exactly the same conditions that I encountered. What did I learn?   Find some one who is accomplished and paints in the same types of conditions that you do and see how they handle it . The Russians painted gray winter days in a way that was spectacular. Hibbard painted snowy Vermont scenes in villages where I had actually lived ! Now I had some value and chroma guide lines to follow  that made sense to me.  To be continued…

If you are interested in painting outdoors, would like to improve your skills and have a lot of fun  join the BRUSH & SKETCH CLUB click here.

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What I Learned Plein Air Painting

mary painting

Mary Byrom painting at Perkins Cove, Ogunquit , Maine

I was reflecting on what I learned while plein air painting and about the challenges of the changing weather and dark clouds moving in on a perfectly sunlit scene.  I live on the coast of  Maine. It was winter when I first started to paint outdoors. We have typical new England winters here, with snow and ice and freezing temperatures. I didn’t think it made any difference what the season was, I would just have different subject matter.  In the early days I went out to paint once a week with a friend. That way we were committed to go out to paint even if the weather looked questionable. We would pick a variety of locations and meet each week to hike to wherever we thought the best view was.  Since we started plein air painting in early winter, we just put on our warmest clothing and headed out. We didn’t think too much about the cold, mostly we thought about locations.

The first time we ran into a  problem was when my painting companion climbed to the top of a tower to get the best view over the marshes and ended up with hypothermia at the end of the day.  I was perfectly fine down on the ground as I was protected from the cold winds by dunes. Little did I know that she was up at the freezing in the wind. Lesson learned; cold wind all day can be a problem that you don’t notice while you are painting.

We went out faithfully once a week to paint. My paintings were horrible ! We would talk to each other about this constantly.  Why was the paint all coming off the painting back on to my brush? It wasn’t sticking to the canvas.  Why did I have all these situations where I could not  get the paint to behave in a normal manner? I couldn’t get a sharp edge. The light reflecting off the snow was blinding me and when I got back home and looked at the painting I had painted it all in the wrong colors. There were other painters who painted outdoors and their paintings looked just fine. Why did mine look so bad ?

A couple of things were happening. We were both experienced artists. We worked with a variety of art materials that we used indoors.  All my previous experience painting with oils was in a studio. I painted from life. I drew from life. I sketched from life.  I painted with watercolors and acrylics alla prima but they dry in a few minutes . Oil paint does not dry in a few minutes.  And oil paint at 20 degrees on a winter day does not dry at all.  I was experiencing a double learning curve. I was painting with oils wet into wet and I was doing it outdoors in the middle of winter.  I had the wrong brushes, wrong solvent and difficult substrate. I didn’t have a clue that they were wrong. And I didn’t have anyone to ask. The studio instructor I talked to was knowledgeable and could help me with suggestions for my subject matter but he had no idea how my tools and materials were behaving.  When he painted outdoors it was on a nice summer day.

To be continued….

Do you want to learn to paint outdoors and improve your skills?   To join the Brush & Sketch Club go here.

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What is the Brush and Sketch Club?

painting class

Students painting at Brave Boat Harbor, York, Maine.

What is the Brush and Sketch Club?

The Brush and Sketch Club is an ongoing plein air class practiced in a wide variety of mediums. Each class session lasts 3 hours. We meet at a different location for each class.  Student may work in any medium wet or dry, painting or sketching, with a plein air easel and paint kit or with just a sketchbook, some pencils or markers, some watercolors and a folding chair.

painting class 2

Student painting at Hamilton House, South Berwick, ME.

How does the club  work?

It works like your favorite yoga class. You can purchase a block of 5 classes ($180) and use them on any day a class session is scheduled.  Or if you just feel like trying out a class or being spontaneous and dropping in at the last minute you can pay for a single class.($45)


Me painting and demoing in Kittery Point, ME.

When does the club meet?

Summer and Fall Class sessions are:

Mondays 3-6pm.  June 15th – October 26th.

Wednesdays 3-6pm ~  June 24th, July 1,8, 29th, August 5th – October 28th


How to Create Successful Plein Air Paintings


Painting the marsh in Ogunquit, Maine. Oil on panel. 15×30. Available at Beth Ellis Cove Gallery.

I was thinking the other day about how to create successful plein air paintings. When I first went outdoors to paint in 2004 painting the landscape was overwhelming to me.  I would  think about what I saw and what I would choose to paint.  I remember I would be in these gorgeous, awesome places and when I got home the painting wouldn’t even look close to the beauty that I had experienced. It looked like a struggle of paint on a panel. I was painting a picture of my struggle to paint in plein air, not the beauty that was in front of me. I decided I wanted to have more control over the painting and not get over whelmed by the elements.  This idea and a process I went through helped me improve my plein air paintings and reach a certain level accomplishment.

O beach

“Infinity” oil on panel. 11×14″ Plein air on Ogunquit Beach. Available at The Beth Ellis Cove Gallery.

At a gallery opening on Friday night a studio painter shared with me how she is always struggling when she goes out to paint en plein air. As I listened to her I remembered the time when I had my “plein air break through” and no longer struggled while painting en plein air. It had to do with a series of plein air painting experiences and a change that occurred in my thinking.

When I first  painted outdoors it was in the winter.  I had so many failures. I  pretty much had to learn plein air painting on my own. There seemed to be a shortage of plein air painting instructors in New England in the winter. I didn’t have any real guidance. As time went by I had fewer failures but couldn’t really see a method or pattern to my success. I decided I was going to learn how to create successful plein air paintings.  I was going to strategically try specific things to get me on the right track.


Late Light, oil, 4×8 $250. Available here.

The first thing I did was research lots of painters to find one who was accomplished at painting outdoors.  The second step was to find one who offered instruction in plein air painting. It was difficult. Only a few artists offered instruction in plein air painting and most of those were far away in the western states and only offered one workshop a year. I was wait-listed trying to get into workshops that were filled. To be continued….

If you are interested in painting outdoors and learning how to really get good at it join the BRUSH & SKETCH CLUB click here.


Why Painting Outdoors Makes You A Better Artist

Plein air water color sketches 6x8" in my sketchbooks

Plein air.  A view of my sketch book, water color sketches.

Painting outdoors has huge benefits. It is not only awesome and loads of fun , but in the end you actually are better painter, not mention a happy one too. I’m not kidding, it’s incredible! Being outdoors makes you feel great and after you have painted in every type of weather and light condition known to man you discover that after the dust settles you actually have some decent paintings to look at. Don’t just take my word for it. There are piles of studies that show the benefits of being out side.

From 2010 to 2015 I painted outdoors almost exclusively. Every day I headed out to paint under the open sky.  I think this was the most important thing that guided and developed my work. By painting consistently outdoors I developed my ability to see and increased my skills.  So…because I love painting outdoors… I started The Brush & Sketch Club.

What is the Brush & Sketch Club?

The Brush & Sketch Club is an ongoing plein air class practiced in a wide variety of mediums. Each class session lasts 3 hours. We meet at a different location for each class.  Student may work in any medium wet or dry, painting or sketching, with a plein air easel and paint kit or with just a sketchbook,  some pencils or markers, some watercolors and a folding chair.

How does the club  work?

It works like your favorite yoga class. You can purchase a block of 5 classes ($180) and use them on any day a class session is scheduled.  Or if you just feel like trying out a class or being spontaneous and dropping in at the last minute you can pay for a single class.($45)

When does the club meet?

Summer session is posted on my website .  Most class sessions in June & July are on Mondays and Wednesdays, 3-6pm. With a few evenings sprinkled through out the summer.  So we can capture those beautiful night lights!  View Calendar here.

It will put a smile on your face.  Not to mention how you will feel after a day of painting in nature, when you tuck in to a dinner of  lobster, corn on the cob and blueberry pie at the end of a perfect day painting in Maine.

Questions? Contact me at:

Sign up for classes here.

Sign up for mini- workshops here.

Love Sketching

Fish Shacks  I really love sketching. I always sketch.  I love sketching with grey markers, ink, watercolor, gouache and acrylic. I sketch and paint on a medium thick paper that can handle color and water without collapsing or curling. I think the reason sketching is so special to me is because its fast and easy and doesn’t require a lot of gear.  Its quick, it grabs me and takes me away to a wonderful place.  When visiting a new area sketching invites me to enter into a closer intimate relationship with this location. It sets me free. Its not self conscious. I am not making a picture. I am not going to frame it. I am not making a statement. I am entering into a relationship with what is surrounding me. And what  I choose to put on the page is something that captured my fancy or a whim. I am carefree when sketching. Its a record of where I am at that very minute and nothing else.  Just lines, colors and freedom.


Like Summer

Today was like summer. We are having days with 80 degree temps inland and its 50 on the coast.  I needed to wear my gloves and winter hat when I was out painting the surf. The waves this week were spectacular. Under sunny skies with puffy white clouds we had surf that looked like a nor’easter was hitting the coast. We painters lucked out. I live about 8 miles inland from the ocean.  I can often judge what is going on over on the rocks.  A morning that started off quiet and warm turned windy and very chilly by 10 am. The wind was hitting hard, driving off the ocean from the east. Backwards! Our weather usually moves from west to east. I packed up and headed over to paint. Wow, what a great decision !

Wearing all the warm clothes I had!

Wearing all the warm clothes I could find in my car!

I’m just beginning to return to my regular work/painting schedule. Marcus is improving!  His recovery is a steady process that needs time for the healing.   I’ve never been around anyone who had a heart attack and  open heart surgery so this is all new territory for me. I’m doing my best to keep him cheerful and and fixing healthy, tasty food so I can to keep him interested in eating.  He’s not the usual heart attack type , as he’s pretty fit and not over weight, with low blood pressure and a good diet.  They don’t often give people like him a by pass.

My surf painting, 9x12 oil on panel.

My surf painting almost finished, 9×12 oil on panel.

Lessons learned in these past few weeks : Things change; you can always trust that things will not be the same. What we actually know is far less than what we don’t know. Don’t make assumptions, jump to any conclusions or end results. Persevere; if you can out last everyone else and you are the last one standing in the room, you win.  And… its not over till the fiddler stops playing.


Tonight Just after Sunset

Evening Sky Study 1, 6x12 oil

Evening Sky Study, 6×12 oil

I went out back tonight just after sunset. The sky was covered with a thin veil of clouds after a pale blue violet pinkish sunset. The first stars were showing through. It’s early spring.  So early that when I was raking the leaves off the flower bed this afternoon I hit patches of ice next to the clusters of daffodils.

I went outdoors in the early gathering darkness to try to establish some normalcy in my life. My husband had a very close brush with death 20 days ago and we haven’t yet emerged from the vortex that event created. We are still in the aftermath of surviving a heavy blow. He is finding his way back to having his body function normally and healing the trauma of the surgery.  We are immersed in all the care giving, cooking, housekeeping, physical therapy, doctors visits, nurses visits, health monitoring and everything else that goes with the territory of surviving a close hit and finding oneself still alive to talk about it.

Sunset Study, 6x8 oil

Sunset Study, 6×8 oil

I went out to sit on the back steps to watch darkness fall on a spring evening. I wanted to feel a connection to the rhythm of the seasons, the time of the earth, the sounds of nature one hears as darkness falls, something bigger than my life. This is something that I used to do every evening when the weather was nice. I’ve been away and missed it for many days . I invited my husband to come out with me tonight to listen to the sounds of spring. We sat on the stairs in the dim light, the first stars glittering above our heads. A lone Canadian goose flew over the back field heading east, honking and honking.  A few minutes later a V of geese flew over honking and heading in the same direction. Then we heard a high clear call of a woodcock circling up in the air.  I can never see or find them. Its too dark.  But we can hear it. Over and over it repeats its song.

Sunset Clouds study, 6x8 oil

Sunset Clouds study, 6×8 oil

Its getting dark. The temperature is falling. There is no wind. The woodcock has moved farther away. I say “Its, too cold, there are no peepers yet”. Then right after I say the words we hear a murmur, then a distant song. We stop and listen closely. They are far away in the marsh down by Ogunquit Road. The song of those little, tiny harbingers of spring starts up, keeps building and is a steady hum filling in the distant silence of the evening.  I remember a past life that seems so long ago when I used to sit out here in the dark on chilly evenings with a hot cup of tea listening to this joyful sound of spring. And here it is once again.


STUDIO PAINTINGSPainting is a language for me. Its something I do all the time and it changes as I change.  I’ve gone through many periods and styles. The last time I had a extreme life change I went from being an abstract painter to becoming a landscape painter.

I was hit by a car while waiting in a cross walk on an early spring day.  Mass General Hospital became my home for the next 22 days while they put me back together. When I returned home to Maine I was in physical therapy for the next 10 years.

I tried to get back to work and to pick up where I was before I was so rudely interrupted. I couldn’t resume from where I left off. A life changing tsunami had picked me up and deposited me in a strange land.  When the wave finally receded I found myself alive and physically unable to do anything I could easily do before. Everything had changed completely. How I related to the world and how I fit in it was completely different.

BEARWhen I found Falun Gong during my 10th year of physical therapy and started practicing it all my symptoms disappeared. I could walk easily again, I was no longer fatigued by the demands of daily life and I finally returned to good health and full mobility.  I was so excited I immediately went out in to the wilds of New England.  I yearned to leave the roads and paved areas where I was confined for 10 years. My husband and I walked into the White Mountains of NH following trails up into the woods. We didn’t see one other person.  I wanted to be out in the solitude of nature to be surrounded by quiet, trees and mountains. It was what I missed most. I never would have know this if I hadn’t been denied access to these wild areas. A a result of this I became a landscape painter. Who would have known?

BRUSHESNow I am in the midst of another tsunami. My husband Marcus had a heart attack and emergency open heart surgery a couple of weeks ago. He is home now. I am the nurse, physical therapist, cook, housekeeper, secretary, personal assistant, patient advocate and CEO of this new company that is keeping everything moving forward through the medical industry, government industry and daily living.  Its had to keep track of all the people, institutions, entities, major players and bit players and stay on top of them. So many gaps, missing pieces and myopic views from this new population I’m dealing with. When the water recedes and we find out what this new territory is I sure there will be some major changes.  I can trust in that for sure. Change is a constant.

Mud Season

Up here in rural Maine we have 5 seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter and mud season. We have one extra short season that overlaps late winter and early spring. All the rural areas of the New England states share this season to varying degrees.

A Force of Nature, 8x16 oil on panel, $1200. Available.

A Force of Nature, 8×16 oil on panel, $1200. Available.

I notice if we have a few weeks of warm days with freezing nights we have a nice long mud season.  These same weather conditions are also perfect for the maple syrup producers. The sap starts running during the warm days and slows when the temperature drops below freezing over night.

Evening Mist, 16x20 oil on panel, $2500. Available.

Evening Mist, 16×20 oil on panel, $2500. Available.

This is a great time of year for plein air painting. We have the best of both worlds,  bright snowy landscape and  temperatures above 32 degrees that feel absolutely tropical after the minus zero temperatures from a few weeks back. Spring weather makes New Englanders act crazy. This week I  painted without gloves, a jacket and a hat. If I had been thinking clearly I would have worn my hat. I got my first sunburn of the season surrounded by huge piles of melting snow while standing in large puddles of water in 50 degree sunshine.

Blueberry Country, 28x32 oil on panel, $6000. Available.

Blueberry Country, 28×32 oil on panel, $6000. Available.

I’m spending a lot of time in my studio these days. I have a pile of paintings that need to be finished and delivered and a new show coming up at the beginning of April.  I’m organizing my spring/ summer/ fall plein air events and workshops and and planning my summer schedule.  I’m trying to slow down the departure of winter. I’m trying to stretch mud season? I really want to wear my bean boots for another month? Right now it is snowing.  Its covering the field out back, and turning the exposed bits of grass  white.  At the same time the snow on the roof is melting, the puddles and mud in the yard are liquid and the pavement on the street is wet.  Its OK with me.

You are invited to “Local Color 2015 ” the first exhibit of the 2015 season at Bayview Gallery. Friday, April 10th 5-7 pm. 58 Maine Street, Brunswick, ME.  I’d love to see your smiling face !

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