Chicago Skyline: Step-by-step Creating a Painting “en Plein Air” (that means… “outside”)


I spend much time outside painting with my watercolor materials. This makes me a “plein air” painter—one who paints in the open air.

It seems daunting to some of my students to think of being so mobile and so nimble to simply pick up your materials and plunk down wherever you want and start to paint.

Surprise! To me, that is what makes it so appealing. It can be spontaneous. It allows you to be present. You study the world as it exists in that instant. I love it! 

This post will take you through a few steps in the process. 

I’ll leave out a bunch of details…. Basically, it comes down to: you decide on a place to paint. You look around.  You want to find some flat even ground so you are not too tippy. You want to be able to be out in the open enough so you are safe. Yet, you want to find a space off the beaten-path so you aren’t in the route of walkers, skateboarders, strollers, and dogs — more on dogs later.

The cover photo shows the scene I selected to paint. It was early morning on a chilly fall day in Grant Park, along the Loop in Chicago. I loved the backlight, luscious fall grasses, the bright greens and the deep shadows. The morning light catching the edge of the buildings was also a moment I wanted to catch. It would be fleeting so I took a bunch of photos to capture that instant. NOTE: that’s not “cheating”. You can take photos. Use all the technology you want. 🙂 

paint for one museum - QoR field palette

Here’s the paint I used. It’s a watercolor field box by QoR. I got mine at Wet Paint Art in Minneapolis. I love the consistency of the paint. It’s very creamy and smooth with intense color. I use a bunch of different paints. sometimes Schmincke. Sometimes Winsor & Newton. Sometimes Daniel Smith, etc. But this is a neat little kit. I like that it’s metal.  I like the concave indentations for mixing paint. (Apparently, from the photos it seems that I couldn’t stay within the circles… but in theory, I like the concept!) 

starting One museum on grass

This is a mid-phase of the painting. I have put in the mid-values (those are the colors that are not too dark and not too light– in the middle.) I tend to like a very broad range of value –from white to the darkest darks. So I get some darks in now because it’s fun and it lets me pop out the spaces that will become the backlit grasses, statue, and people on the path. 

dalmation- one museum small cropped I always attract a lot of dogs, little kids, and other visitors. I enjoy interacting with them and they all seem so intrigued with me and what I am doing. It’s a hoot. 

Here’s a little video I made talking about some of this excitement: Dogs and Other Visitors on my YouTube Channel. 


one musuem park, grant park, final sig ratio 11.14. sm

Here’s the finished painting. I made a few adjustments in my studio. Added some details. Then adjusted the contrast of the buildings vs the sky. I added a bit of white gel pen to emphasize that edge of light I found so appealing when I first picked this scene. 

Entered in an Exhibit and Accepted

Here my little painting is on the right-hand side of this photo. Grant Park is above my Giant Snow Flake painting at the Palette and Chisel Gallery, in downtown Chicago. 

one museum in palette and Chisel w firelace

And, here’s a photo of my two paintings in the Plein Air Painters of Chicago Exhibit. 

IMG_4328 (1)



Here is an example of how this painting printed as a fine art print (not the original) could look in “your” bedroom. This image was created through the “wall preview” feature of my website,, where you could buy this print. (The original is already in the collection of a patron.)  

One Musuem park-in bdrom-preview

You can also upload a photo of the room you are considering and using Augmented Reality, you can see how it would look in the room you have planned. This painting is in my NEW Chicago series of plein air paintings. Lots more coming because I love painting around Chicago and Cook County. 

Let me know what you think about this plein air post. We have a few videos about getting set up for plein air on our YouTube Channel. (Good for all ages.)


About artinthecenter

I am a lifelong artist having studied painting, photography, drawing, and other media, in schools in the US and Italy. I won my first art contest when I was five--at a museum-- and my point of view tends to be as a five-year-old creative child embracing life. Check out all sort of artsy information at: and purchase my artwork at: +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This policy is valid from 1 January 2016. This is a personal, educational, blog written and edited by me, Jane M. Mason. For questions about this blog, please contact: Sincere effort has been made to cite, recognize, and thank all sources of content, including images. If you feel we have included something in this blog that has not been accurately noted or recognized, please let me know and I will adjust the citation when presented with details. If you are interested in using intellectual property from this blog, please contact This blog does not accept cash or paid topic insertions. However, we will consider accepting free products and other forms of compensation. The compensation received will not influence content. All advertising is in the form of advertisements generated by a third party ad network. We do not have control over the products advertised. The views and opinions expressed are those of Jane M. Mason or the associates of WPD LLC. We only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, other representation should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. This policy has been adapted from For your own policy, go to

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