Drawing · Painting · Pencils · Sketchpads

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 as it is not always sunny and warm.  Then there is all the other factors like the fact you can feel very ‘on show’ with every passer-by looking over your shoulder! These interruptions in busy areas from inquisitive public are not always welcome or conducive to our best work. I will explain some ways of getting around some of the issues of working outside.

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 river one year for our topic of townscapes.  The route was lined by cafes and restaurants, I found it very noisy and distracting and couldn’t seem to draw well in this environment.  Further along the river it was much quieter, it is often 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. I find balconies are great for this, no one directly looking at you but you have full view of the scene before you, not to mention the great viewpoint from above.

Finding a good spot is of all importance

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.  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.

Conditions change constantly outside, you will need to adapt

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

What media is best to work with outside?

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

Don’t worry about perfection when you are out, this is often not possible if you are working fast reacting to what is happening around you.  Relax and go with it and most of all enjoy being outside!


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