CPAWS: Taking Art Outdoors

Photo by Elizabeth S. Cameron
Photo by Elizabeth S. Cameron

People need quiet places in nature to restore their sense of well-being. For local artist Debbie.Lee Miszaniec, these quiet places are where she practices plein air painting (French for open air) and shows others how to do the same.

Plein air painting started as a way for artists to take notes and impressions of art to take back to the studio, but impressionists wanted to observe the natural world and record it. It is thanks to the invention of portable art supplies that it became easier to paint and draw in nature just for the enjoyment of it.

Miszaniec started out sketching in nature because young artists are encouraged to draw from life and record things quickly, so she always had her sketchpad with her. She began sketching outdoors occasionally when travelling so she could better explore new places and reconnect with herself. It was a natural progression over the years to spend more time painting outdoors. Miszaniec tries to paint outdoors at least a couple of times a month in fair weather as the wonderful sunshine and fresh air makes her feel good and it brings a freshness to her work.

“Outdoors, you can’t be a fussy perfectionist. You only have about two or three hours to get things down before the light or weather changes. You must get it down and move on,” says Miszaniec.

“You can see things in nature that you don’t see in a photograph. You can see more shadow and light. Your colours look different and fresh with direct inspiration from nature. You get the whole picture in nature.”

To be creative outdoors, Miszaniec recommends the following:

– Start with a sketchpad and paper to get a feel for the experience before moving to paint.
– Plan to finish within two to three hours before the light changes.
– Think of comfort: bring water, extra clothing, food, sun screen, bug spray and a hat (no sunglasses as they change the light).
– Be safe and remain aware of your surroundings.
– Keep the area clean. Bring a container for fresh and dirty water to carry back with you, and a bag to wrap brushes in – bring them home to wash.

For those who are new to outdoor art, Miszaniec recommends taking an introductory class, or start with a sketchpad and pencil to get an idea of what to expect.

Debbie painting outdoors. Photo by Elizabeth S. Cameron
Debbie painting outdoors. Photo by Elizabeth S. Cameron

Artist Debbie.lee Miszaniec has a bachelor’s degree in painting and has been practicing for the better part of two decades. Her studio specializes in fine art, commissions, painting lessons and art parties. Visit to learn more about her work.

Source: CPAWS – Southern Alberta