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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.


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Plein Air Demo in the Cove

mary demoYesterday I gave a “plein air” painting  demonstration hosted by Beth Ellis Cove Gallery in Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine. It was a mob scene when I set up on the docks overlooking the harbor. Summer has arrived in our neighborhood, and there were lots of people walking around, sitting on benches, eating lobster and arriving and departing in sail boats.mary demo3



I painted three paintings in a row. There were two groups of viewers. The first group was mostly artists and they asked very technical questions about materials and procedures. When I finished they spontaneously burst into applause. Pretty funny!  As I was cleaning up my palette the second group arrived looking sadly at the finished paintings on the dock and asking if they were too late.  I assured them I had 30 min left to paint another demo, so they smiled as I started a third painting.

That morning I packed a good selection of small panels in my gear so I could show a series of small finished field sketches to the group, not once thinking that I would have two different groups watching. That was a first.

demo 2 boats

What I observed during the demo is that some people think it’s easy to paint. They believe that you are a born, gifted genius and you just pick up a brush and do it instantly.  (Not true!)  One group murmured “Magic” when the image emerged after a series of brushstrokes. This session was just a warm-up for the big crowds that will gather next week and for the following 10 weeks. Summer is here and the season doesn’t stop till October !

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Painting till Dark in Ogunquit

PAINTING 1Yesterday was gorgeous. I decided I was painting till dark in Ogunquit on the marsh. I went to the Footbridge Beach parking lot and set up as the sun was going down.

MARSH 1I wanted to paint  three small paintings of the marsh as it changed in the late light.

MARY PAINTING 6.1.14I painted marsh painting #1 in bright light. The sun was shinning fully in my face and across the grasses. It was golden and glorious.

MARSH SET UPMarsh painting #2 was painted after the sun was behind the trees so I was standing in their cast shadow.

MARSH PAINTING 2 editedAt this point I had a visitor,  a man who lives nearby and recognized me from last summer. People are really friendly and often say hello when they see me out painting.

MARSH 3 editedThe sun went down behind the horizon and my favorite time to paint began. I love the many stages of dusk until dark. The colors were amazing, subtle and steadily changing – I mixed them totally intuitively and it worked.

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Made in Maine ~ Ogunquit~ Clouds Over the Dune

Clouds over DuneClouds Over the Dune, 28×32, oil $8,960. Available.

I love this kind of weather!  It was a sunny day with big, puffy clouds sailing across the sky.  A storm earlier in the day had blown out to sea. I parked near the footbridge on the Ogunquit River.  The gulls were spiraling up into the air riding the thermal currents high over the dunes. Heavenly!