Opus Resource Library
Plein Air Painting Tips For Canada's Westcoast
Opus Resource Library

10 Expert Plein Air Painting Tips For Canada's Westcoast

For many years, artists have been captivated by the stunning landscapes of British Columbia. Whether using watercolour, pastel, oil, acrylic, or simply sketching, plein air painting offers a unique way to connect with nature. We understand the joys and challenges of painting en plein air ourselves and put together this list to ensure a successful outing in our community.

1. Choose the Right Medium for You

British Columbia's varied environments can accommodate different painting mediums. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Acrylics: Fast-drying and versatile, ideal for changing weather.
  • Oils: Rich colors and blendable, perfect for extended sessions.
  • Watercolors: Great for quick sketches and light travel kits.
  • Pastels: Vibrant and direct, excellent for textured, expressive work.
  • Sketching: Use pencils, ink, or charcoal for quick studies or detailed pieces.

2. Plan Ahead for Success

Preparation is key. Keep a notebook to jot down your favorite spots, the best times for optimal light, and the equipment needed for each location. This forethought saves time and ensures you can paint with a clear mind.

3. Pack Light for Mobility

Plein air painting often involves hiking to find the perfect spot. Pack only the essentials to avoid being weighed down. One of the largest items you'll carry is your painting surface, so we recommend using slim canvases like Opus Exhibition Slim Canvas or panels from Ampersand.

4. Dress for the Weather

British Columbia's weather can be unpredictable. Check the weather and think about dressing in layers to stay comfortable throughout your painting session and pack a hat, sunscreen, and insect repellent for sun and bugs. A lightweight rain jacket is always a smart addition around Vancouver.

5. Scout Your Location

BC is packed with beautiful spots. Here are a few top picks:

  • Stanley Park, Vancouver: Lush greenery and ocean views nestled within the city.
  • Whistler: Mountain landscapes and alpine lakes or capture the bustling village.
  • Tofino: Rugged coastlines and serene beaches. Always magical.
  • Okanagan Valley: Vineyards, orchards and rolling hills that dip into lakes - how could anyone not feel inspired.
  • Yoho National Park: Waterfalls and dramatic rock formations, this national park is famous for a reason.
  • Garry Point Park, Richmond: Stunning waterfront views and open spaces.
  • Burnaby Mountain Park, Burnaby: Offers panoramic views of the city and mountains.
  • Lynn Canyon Park, North Vancouver: Lush greenery and scenic waterfalls.
  • Pacific Spirit Regional Park, Vancouver: A serene forest setting.
  • Buntzen Lake, Anmore: Beautiful lake views surrounded by mountains.
  • Golden Ears Provincial Park, Maple Ridge: Majestic mountain landscapes and lakes..
  • Garibaldi Provincial Park: Stunning alpine scenery and glacial lakes.

6. Time Your Painting Sessions

Early morning and late afternoon offer the best light and shadows. Midday sun can flatten your scene and make colors harsh. Additionally, fewer people are around early in the morning, providing a peaceful environment.

7. Start with a Sketch

Begin by sketching the horizon line and outlining the scene. This initial sketch helps define your workspace and makes it easier to manage the composition's values and tones. Taking a reference photo can be helpful if you can't complete the painting in one session.

8. Work from Large to Small

Begin with the larger elements using broad brushes or large strokes, then move to finer details with smaller brushes. This approach helps establish the composition and balance early on.

9. Choose a Limited Palette

Using a limited palette can not only create unity and harmony in your painting but also helps lighten your load. This approach helps achieve depth and cohesion, regardless of the medium, while ensuring your plein air pack remains portable. Here's a recommended limited palette, leveraging a split primary system, that works well for various scenes in British Columbia:

Split Primary Palette:

  1. Titanium White
  2. Ultramarine Blue (warm blue)
  3. Phthalo Blue (cool blue)
  4. Cadmium Yellow Light (warm yellow)
  5. Lemon Yellow (cool yellow)
  6. Alizarin Crimson (cool red)
  7. Cadmium Red (warm red)
  8. Burnt Sienna (earth tone)

Why This Palette Works:

  • Versatility: The split primary system (warm and cool versions of each primary color) allows you to mix a wide range of colors, capturing the diverse landscapes of British Columbia.
  • Harmony and Depth: Limited palettes naturally harmonize and help in creating depth through mixing rather than relying on numerous tubes.
  • Portability: Fewer tubes mean a lighter, more manageable plein air kit, perfect for outdoor painting adventures.

Mixing Capabilities:

  • Greens: Mix Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow with either blue for vibrant and varied greens suitable for forests, parks, and foothills.
  • Oranges: Combine Cadmium Red with Cadmium Yellow Light for bright, warm oranges seen in sunlight and autumn foliage.
  • Purples: Mix Alizarin Crimson with Ultramarine Blue for rich purples, ideal for shadows and evening skies.
  • Neutrals and Earth Tones: Burnt Sienna mixed with Ultramarine Blue creates a range of neutral grays and browns, perfect for earth, rocks, and tree trunks.
  • Highlighting and Shadows: Titanium White lightens any mix for highlights and reflections, while Burnt Sienna deepens shadows.

This limited palette provides the flexibility needed to capture the essence of various landscapes, from the vibrant greens of forests to the deep blues of lakes and skies, ensuring your plein air paintings are unified and harmonious.

10. Manage Drying Times According to Medium

Drying times vary by medium:

  • Oil Painters: Use a drying accelerator medium to speed up the drying process.
  • Acrylic Painters: Use a retarder medium to slow down drying, especially in warm weather.
  • Watercolour Artists: Be mindful of drying times, which can be affected by humidity and wind. Carry a spray bottle to keep the paint moist.
  • Pastel Artists: Fixative sprays can help set your work as you go, but use sparingly to avoid altering colors.

Share Your Plein Air Painting Tips

Join our vibrant community of artists on social media! Share your plein air paintings tips using our hashtag #opuspleinairchallenge on Instagram. Connect with fellow artists, exchange tips, and get inspired by others' works. Whether you're a professional artist, an enthusiastic hobbyist, or an eager art student, there's a place for you in our community.