What do you find the biggest challenge of outdoor painting?

A question asked by one of my favourite British watercolour artists – Jem Bowden – in a facebook comment to one of his recent posts. When thinking about this question I came to the conclusion, that the answer isn’t a straightforward one and so I decided to write a post on it.
I believe there is not the one biggest challenge but many small ones which make outdoor painting such a big challenge – at least for hobby painters like me who are (and maybe always will be) rather beginners in terms of plein air painting.
First of all there is the challenge of finding time to go outdoor painting: The weather has to be fine, the artist and all family members have to be healthy enough (the artist to be able to go outside, the family members to be left back at home without a bad conscience), no football matches of sons or birthday parties of daughters on the family schedule, no Bundesliga match to go to with a friend, etc., etc. And of course: no other important issues to care about like the garden, the house, my mother, etc.
So when there is one of those rare time slots when all of this happens to be the case, the next question is: where to paint? I have given up the idea of driving around on my bike and when a nice scenery springs into my eye I stop and start painting. Usually this is way more difficult than one would think. It is better to choose a place before you start and to paint there, no matter what happens. Otherwise there will be too many excuses. But still: I have to decide on a place and that can be difficult as well. Can I reach it easily? Will there be many people? Is there really something to paint? I usually want to use my time for painting and not finding out about a place if it is a good place to paint at.
Quite a challenge as well is my excitement: Standing at an easel and painting something is not a thing one sees very often here where I live so I have to be prepared that people will have a look and given my plein air painting qualities this might be a bit embarrassing. Especially when there is a danger of meeting people I know. I still feel that painting in watercolour is not really seen as a hobby men do (unless they paint like a master already). My neighbours are rather into running, using chainsaws, doing all sorts of diy, cars, etc. The men stuff, you know? And me? I start to see it as a part of my biography and something which just belongs to me, this makes it more justifiable. But I would really like to come home with a picture one day which I would be proud of to show to my neighbor when I meet him on the street. Hasn’t happened yet.
Jem mentioned the thinking time in his post. This is another challenge. When painting pictures indoors, I usually think a lot about the paintings and how do I approach things. I study my Wesson or Steve Hall books, or browse the internet for inspiration on how to tackle a certain problem. This is something, I cannot do so outdoors. I have to decide quickly and only have myself to rely on. And this can go wrong sometimes. Especially because (here we have the lack of time again) I usually don’t do any tonal value or colour studies which I increasingly think might be a good thing.
And then of course: the weather. I have very stable and constant conditions in our dining room where I usually paint. Outside this is different: the sun might be bright and strong, which lets the washes dry very quickly or it is too cold and humid so that it takes ages for the washes to dry. Weather conditions might change very quickly: nearly raining one moment, bright sun shining on a white piece of paper and nearly blinding me the other moment.
Finding a good composition is a challenge, which I feel I get better at. I have a viewfinder and this is a great tool to find a composition and bring it on my paper.
So these are some of my challenges and I believe when I would think more deeply about it, I would find many, many more. So the question is: Why doing it anyway?
The simple answer is: Because it’s great fun. I find it quite relaxing to stand somewhere outside between trees and amidst fields and to enjoy the sun, the wind, the quietness around me. I like to think of painting as a chance to get into closer contact with a part of my surrounding world and to have thorough look at it. I don’t say anything new, when I say: It’s the process, not the result.


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