Hot Topic Monday: En Plein Air

copyright Annie McLean

Every art magazine, each arty email I have received recently, all seem to be discussing en plein air working. I’ve also been looking at a few art competions or ‘Call for Entries’ and there appears to be an increase in ones involving painting outdoors in the local areas. I’ve always enjoyed working outdoors but have not always been comfortable about having lots of passers by hence my en plein air work tends to be isolated locations. Time for a change perhaps.

So what exactly is ‘en plein air’ or ‘outdoor’ painting? Does the whole process involve being outdoors or is it acceptable to to start outdoors and finish off indoors? My own outdoor work is often finished off in the studio but I wonder if I am being true to the genre of en plein air. The Glasgow Boys (an alliance of about 20 Scottish painters in the late 19th centuary) were great believers in outdoor painting with their distinctive naturalistic styles. I wonder how many of them started outdoors and finished in the studio?

It would be an interesting experiment to work some paintings fully outdoors, either ‘Alla Prima’ (in one sitting) or over a few days working at the same time each day to keep the light correct. One sitting means that the weather is not likely to impact on the scene and our British weather is so unreliable that we are unlikely to get the same conditions two or more days running. I sketched a scene two days ago in the hope I could return the following day to paint, but the bright sunshine had changed to dull and overcast. No lovely mottled shadows on the path to paint!

Over the next few months I will compare different methods of working outdoors. Perhaps keep a journal of the process.




ON TULLOCH HILL by Annie McLean [Oil on board 12x9inch framed]

Most of my inspiration comes from the land. The more remote and wild the area the better for stirring up my Muse. My most recent project is to build a collection of landscape interpretations and impressions based on mankind’s attempt to survive on the rugged and isolated areas of Scotland. The BOTHY COLLECTION is well on its way, having just completed the fourth painting in the series. You can view the artwork on my website in New Work Gallery:

Next step for these small (9.8×9.8cm) acrylic on wood panel paintings is to have them framed prior to being exhibited or presented for sale. Look out for more Bothy paintings being added to the collection ……..


Lady’s Tower


LADY’S TOWER by Annie McLean Mixed media on paper £POA  Image: 8x12cm.  Mounted:15.2x20cm [unframed]
Sunday was a cold day, perhaps not the best day to walk along the coast of Elie in the East Neuk of Fife but the sun shone, coaxing me and my Muse outdoors.  I had not set out to gather inspirations for my artwork; the trip out was meant to be just another ‘chilly picnic’ with Bob, enjoying each other’s company and countryside.  Bob parked up at the harbour car park and guided me across the sands, grasses and rocks towards the east side of Elie Ness.  We stepped out of the car to a severe biting wind, thinking a short walk before lunch then perhaps another short walk in the other direction after eating our picnic in the car.  We stopped many times during our walk that our ‘chilly picnic’ became more like a mid-afternoon feast as we took so long to complete what should have been a short walk before lunch.  


I was glad I had packed my camera as there were so many scenes of inspiration that captured my eye.  Bob, as always, was patient with my need to indulge the Muse. We stopped several times to take photographs and to absorb the beauty of this delightful place.  We did continue our explorations after lunch and, as before, I gathered more photographs and ‘beachcombing gifts’ that will work their way into some multi-media work at some point.

Lady's Tower and Bob DSCF9888_edited-1
Lady’s Tower – and a patient Bob.


Here are some links for those who wish to know more about Elie and the Lady’s Tower:

Lady’s Tower – a short walk from the Watersports Car Park.

Elie – a tourist page showing areas of interest around Elie and Earlsferry


Meet Moody Margaret

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MOODY MARGARET by Annie McLean – Oil on Board 15×17.5cm
Meet Moody Margaret, sheep extraordinaire.  I have a feeling Miss Margaret though may be more of a ‘Ram in Ewe’s wool’.  But I don’t mind transgender sheep.  This has been a bit of fun for me over this last week or two.  This fun wee painting started out as another ‘left-overs’ and I have worked away, off and on, at it over the last couple of weeks using the left over oils from my palettes from other paintings.  Perhaps she was a bit of light relief from working on the landscapes.  She is worked in oils on prepared (gesso) board and is 15×17.5cm.  I have used a photograph I took some time ago as reference and tried to put a bit of character into the piece.  Sheep, like all animals, have characters.  Whilst I was working on Moody Margaret I kept thinking up stories about a sheep.  A rather bossy, dominant sheep who keeps trying to be in charge only to find that other farm animals play tricks on her.  Perhaps a children’s story in there after all ……

I’ve come to 5.30pm and realised that I have not gone shopping yet.  I have two choices – eat what I can cook from frozen in my freezer (which means a late dinner) or get to the shops quick and see if I can pick up something that will cook quickly – and maybe even treat myself to a bottle of wine.  My prize for completing two paintings in one day, albeit ones that were started previously.


Completed: From Wilkie’s Shelter

FROM WILKIE’S SHELTER by Annie McLean Oil on Board [14x10cm]
Started yesterday at the monthly Drop In for Art session – finished this morning.  I say finished but quite often after a painting has sat for a few days before signing I make a last minute amendment or addition.  I may dull the ‘wee hoose’ down a tad when I come to sign the painting.

For this landscape I have used my own reference photograph taken during Sunday’s Day 1 (en plein air) of the 2-day workshop.  The palette of oils I have used for this one includes titanium white, cobalt blue, indian red, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber.  The support is a board primed with gesso.  I’m hoping the oils will be dry enough for me to mount the piece in a week or so.  The size of this study is 14x10cm and I may decide to paint a larger version later in the year.

Wilkie’s Shelter is a red and white public shelter with seating.  There is a board close to it giving information about whose life it commemorates and why it was built.  I’ll have to come back and edit this post as I have very little time at present to give full details.  Briefly, for now, it sits on the top of Kirrie Hill behind the Peter Pan Playground.  The shelter is partitioned into four sections, two of which overlook the Angus Glens.  This view looks out towards Glen Clova.  Perhaps I ought to paint a view from each of the sections.  Another thought to put into the Project Folder.

And now to work …..



Completed: On Tulloch Hill (study)

On Tulloch Hill
ON TULLOCH HILL by Annie McLean – Oil on board 10x8inch

This 10×8 inch painting started life as a study for a larger piece but I worked on and it has become a painting in its own right. Worked in oils, this was one of the four oils started recently.  It was inspired by last week’s EPA (en plein air) walk up to the Airlie monument on Tulloch Hill and beyond to look over the glens.  This particular scene was composed from a previous visit in September 2016 (own photo reference used) when the grasses were a bleached ochre, the heathers an aged mixture of sienna and umber, the sky showing a dramatic loss of summer.  I am still working on the EPA piece I started last Tuesday (7th March) and I hope I can capture just as much drama as I did with this completed one.

Oh it is so good to be back painting landscapes in oils!  Having said that, I am still committed to making this a year of abstract development.  Hopefully I can manage to continue to do both as well as running regular workshops.  At least I will never be bored.

A short blog today.  I have a very messy studio that needs tidying and clearing before the end of the day. I am heading off out this evening to a private view with a friend so have a tight timescale to clean up in, especially if I want to get a bit of painting done today.

May you all be happily busy,


WIP: Three Oil Paintings

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L to R: View from Tulloch Hill; Queen’s View; Forfar Loch
Friday is working on my own day, apart from the occasional visitor to my studio.  My desire today is to work in oils, my favourite medium.  I love the sensory aspects of working with oils; the smell, the feel (yes, I sometimes do use my fingers to apply or smudge in the paint) and the overall quality of this medium.  Oils are sensual.  A most delightful love affair.

This morning I have been working away on three oil paintings of landscapes.  All of them different, with scenes of individual beauty.  The first one worked on this morning was the 30x60cm canvas of Forfar Loch I had started 11 days ago.  This one I am painting from my own reference photograph using Seawhite Oils: Titanium White, Cobalt Blue, Coeruleum, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna.  I want to try to see if I can stick to this limited palette; so far so good.  I had started this one with a brush sketch using thinned out Burnt Sienna then applied the first layer last Friday evening then leaving it for a week to let the oil paint dry out enough before applying the next layer.  Today I have worked the sky and water a bit more and darkened up the background shading of the water edges, grasses and trees using a mix of Cobalt and Sienna which gives a lovely luxuriously deep, almost Phthalo, shade of blue.  I am pleased, so far, how this one is developing.  I may do a little more to this one later today or over the weekend then let it sit again for a week or so.

The next one I decided to work on was a 30x30cm deep edge canvas of Queen’s View in Perthshire which was started as an En Plein Air painting last summer.  The wind got up whilst I was standing at the viewpoint overlooking Loch Tummel, blowing me, the easel and the canvas about a fair bit.  I called it a day, brought the canvas home and settled it on a shelf for the last few months.  Today I started to edge out some of the darker shapes along the loch in the same Cobalt and Burnt Sienna mixture then blended it in a bit with the lighter blue of the loch.  I will work on this one more later today.  I have painted this scene a few times, the largest and best example held in a private collection in Suffolk.  I enjoy painting this scene but prefer to do this in the studio as trying to work EPA at the viewpoint is nigh on impossible due to the tourists.  I’ve also taken a couple of overseas students to this location for a two-day workgroup last year; long, exhausting days but very enjoyable ones.

Last dabble before lunch was adding a bit more substance to the sky from this week’s EPA venture up Tulloch Hill.  I had thought about ditching this one but then thought better of it.  Practice makes perfect so to speak, and not only that if something is not going right first time then there is a lot more to be learnt from sticking with it than giving up.  I think I was more disappointed with not being able to do a complete painting EPA on the day.  I paint slowly and do so envy those who can work outdoors for a couple of hours and come up with spectacular work.  I don’t think I have ever completed a piece of art fully EPA, and if I have then it still gets tampered with in the studio.  Another habit of mine, I find it difficult to stop painting and oft-times overwork a piece.  The View from Tulloch Hill has been salvaged to be worked on and completed another day.

So today is oil painting and there are now three oils on the go, all landscapes.




En Plein Air (EPA) day

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Getting Started with the pochade box
Thursday already.  Thursday is my Monday, the start of another five days of working in the studio.  Weekends, mid-week or otherwise always seem to rush by quicker than I expect or want.  My mid-week weekend has been no different to most.  I promised myself a full day out and about on Tuesday, walking and painting in the Glens of Angus.

On Monday evening I prepared my new pochade box with all the accoutrements needed to start a new landscape in oils.  I packed my usual Winsor & Newton favourite colours and a couple of extras plus an assortment of brushes and a few palette knives.  The box had plenty of spaces for additional materials for cleaning, thinning etc.  I had even ‘primed’ the palette of the box with linseed oil (so much easier to clean up afterwards).

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Airlie Monument, September 2016
Tuesday morning was bright, blue and a bit on the cold side.  Never mind, plenty of wrappings will keep me warm.  Breakfast finished, off I set with my prepared pochade box (complete with two boards supporting a sheet of 12x9in oil painting paper each side), a lightweight folding stool and my rucksack with lunch, water and a few sundries.  The large flask of hot water I decided could stay in the car until I got back to it.  I knew what and where I wanted to paint, and knew that there was every likelihood of it being very much different to when I last visited in September 2016.  It was indeed quite different. I forgot what a climb it was from the car park on the way to Glen Prosen.  And it was much colder in March for sitting still for well over an hour on top of Tulloch Hill, where the Airlie Monument sits in memory of the 9th Earl of Airlie who was killed in the Boer War.

Across the glens from Tulloch Hill Mar17 20170307_110943[1]
View from the Airlie Monument, March 2017
Well, I actually set myself up a short walk away from the monument itself and perhaps exposed myself even more to the chilling wind.  My hands became so cold that I put my lovely soft leather gloves (my best ones of course!) back on to paint with.  The are no longer pure black – they have the odd smudging of oil paint in a variety of colours.  Not too much but enough for them to no longer be considered my best pair of gloves.  My woolly pom-pom hat with the lovely fleecy lining also had to be put on.  My poor ears were starting to go numb with the breeze biting at them.

I much prefer the photos I took last September and have a notion to follow up the one started EPA with one of the Autum scene.  Two different scenes from a short distance apart.  I will work on more than one scene from both the autumn and the spring.  It will be interesting to see what comes out from both.  I don’t do too much in the way of EPA painting.  I suppose I did more outdoor work when I lived down in Suffolk when life was a bit more settled than it has been over these last couple of years back in my homeland.  I intend to rectify that now that life events are settling into a nice routine of work and play.  Scotland is such an inspirational playground for the artist.  Angus and the wonderful Glens is like manna from heaven to my heathen soul.  I will never have enough years to visit or paint all I want of Scotland before my ticket is called.  But I will have fun and plenty of adventures along the way.

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EPA view from Tulloch Hill, March 2017
Tuesday’s EPA painting did not go so well for me, perhaps because of the cold and perhaps because I need more practice hoicking art paraphernalia and lunch up mighty steep hills (well I am into my 60’s now!).  I also need to get over the reluctance of being visible to the public (hence I don’t do street scenes – but watch this space).  I choose the Glens thinking that there would be a good chance of not seeing other people around.  On this trip I had two couples and single walker stop to chat.  Once my concentration gets distrurbed I sometimes find it difficult to settle back into the ‘mode’.  After about an hour and a half of playing around with the oils I decided to pack up and walk further into the glens, heading towards Clova (and a suitable place for a ‘comfort break’).  I took some photos along the way which may or may not get used for future paintings/inspirations etc.

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Towards Clova from Tulloch Hill, March 2017
I could have kept going but realised that I had a lot of up and down hill to retrace back to my car.  And I wanted to get back to the car for a nice hot cup of tea from my flask.  I made it back to the car by 15.30 and sat on a bench in the car park looking towards Glen Prosen.  Enough was enough for the day.  Time to head home and get back into the warm.

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Time to turn back towards the Airlie Monument, March 2017

Looking back to Airlie Monument 20170307_134551[1]
Walking back towards the Airlie Monument, March 2017
Next week another EPA day.  Where will I get to next week?