How Do I Handle Working Outdoors?

Just the thought of working outside is intimidating for many of the beginner learners on my courses.  There are many benefits of doing some drawing and painting outside, so here are some tips to prepare you to go out.

There are many obstacles to drawing and painting outside, the British weather is one of course but also you can get lots of interruptions in busy areas from inquisitive public!

These interruptions are usually friendly questions or peering over your shoulder, if you like meeting people this can be a positive thing.  However it is not always welcome and can put many of us off our drawing and painting in public places.

Safety in Numbers 

You can feel very exposed drawing and painting in public places but it is surprising how you can soon forget about other people.  Soon enough you become very engrossed in what you are doing and you don’t mind about other people.  Generally speaking people are too busy to really notice what you are doing. However if you feel uncomfortable why not go out with a drawing or painting buddy or in a small group.  It is really fun to go and draw with friends in this way.

It's fun to draw with friends
It’s fun to draw with friends

Find the Right Spot

I don’t like really busy locations to draw and paint unless you want to draw people. I took a small group of learners out along a riverbank one year for our topic of ‘townscapes’ to draw.  The route was lined by cafes and restaurants, I found it very noisy and distracting.  Further along the river it was much quieter, it is possible to draw busy city or town scenes from a quieter location if you wish, so seek out a quiet corner if the noise and distraction is going to put you off your drawing and painting.

Dealing with Weather

Sheltered spots are best for avoiding the cold and rain, in fact if you can find a good sheltered spot you can draw and paint for most of the year.  Bus shelters are very good for this in the countryside or church entrances.

One way of dealing with weather is to wear the right clothes and enough of them.  It doesn’t take long to get cold if you are sitting for long periods so do wrap up.  I am a big fan of fingerless gloves for drawing outside in the winter.  A warm hat and waterproof coat are essentials in the UK for drawing outside anytime other than the summer months.

Heat can also be a problem, do wear a sunhat and bring suncream if you are going out in the summer months.  Another problem is paint drying too fast in the hotter months.  I like to use a small travel version mist spray, like the ones you use for plants to keep my paint moist.  Working with acrylic in the heat can be a problem if you are trying to blend, the paint with dry within 5 minutes, if not sooner.  Even watercolour will try fast in hot weather, making working ‘wet on wet’ more challenging.


When you work outside in a sketchbook the quality of your sketchbook becomes all important.  Taking out cheap sketchbooks that are not well made is not a good idea, the pages will fall out with the smallest gust of wind and the paper won’t stand up to damp conditions, they will go soggy.  I will only take out hard-backed spiral bound sketchbooks with good quality cartridge paper because they ‘travel’ much better.

Hard-backed sketchpads wear much better outside
Hard-backed sketchpads wear much better outside

The Best Mediums

You can work with any medium outside but I prefer to keep it to drawing at least in the cooler months.  Drawing is much easier than painting outside in my experience.

Painting-wise I think watercolour is the best medium because you can buy a small field watercolour pad and create instant washes.  I went to Scotland on holiday one year and filled a whole A5 sketchpad with sunsets, skies and seascapes all in watercolour.  The medium suited the subject matter perfectly and it was quick and easy to capture with the field watercolour pad.

Watercolour is a good medium for quick work outside
Watercolour is a good medium for quick work outside

Don’t Plan too Much 

Chance happenings are the most exciting thing about going out to draw and paint.  Sometimes if you plan a piece too much it doesn’t go to plan.  Just remember to go prepared with the right materials, clothing and equipment and see what happens!


One thought on “How Do I Handle Working Outdoors?

  1. Pingback: What Do I Need to Work Outdoors? – Rebecca Art Tutor

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