Art theory Landscape Life in general Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Plein Air

Am I Having Fun Yet? Uh, no.

Borgas Ranch

Oil on panel, 9×12″ (reworked from original plein air) (larger)

Saturday was the first plein air paint-out of the season for the East Bay Plein Air Painters. We went to Old Borges Ranch, a charming historical old ranch with a blacksmith shop, old barns, farm animals, all surrounded by the brilliant green hills of springtime. It was very cloudy and I decided that what I wanted to focus on was trying to observe and paint the effect of the cloudy, cool, diffused light.

After wandering around trying to pick a spot, by the time I was ready to start painting I only had two hours left before our group critique. This is the same painting as above after two hours:

Borgas Ranch - @ 2 hours

Oil on panel, 9×12″ (original plein air) (larger)

I probably should have left it alone and moved on. But I was frustrated with the way I seem to always be painting hills (I’m sick of painting hills!) and they always look flat. So after the critique, I went back and started working on the painting again, determined to figure out how to make the hills not look flat. I stood there painting for 2 more hours and although I made some discoveries about paint application and brush strokes, I hadn’t improved the painting at all (just the opposite).

What I’d planned to do after the paint-out at 1:00, was to take a walk on the beautiful trails and do some sketching of the interesting sights but it was too late when I finally gave up on the painting at 4:00 because I had a long drive home and had to get ready for a dinner party that evening.

Today, even though I tried to ignore it, the painting and my frustration about it continued to bug me. I finally decided to work on it some more until I either got it or killed it. I guess I did a little of both.

The truth is that today oil painting isn’t feeling like fun. I’m missing the watercolor sketchbooking and drawing for fun I did all the time before I took up oils. I’m jealous of all the people I see while I’m plein air painting who are taking a hike in pretty places instead of torturing themselves trying to paint them. I’m missing filling up my sketchbook with fun, wonky drawings and loose watercolors. I’m longing for working from still life set ups or photos where the light doesn’t change and where it’s not always a rush against time.

I also know that I’m persistent if nothing else, and that I’m not giving up the struggle. But it’s time to have more fun with my art. After all, I’m doing this for my own creative pleasure, and as much as I love learning, sometime a woman just needs to play, too.

11 replies on “Am I Having Fun Yet? Uh, no.”

Maybe it’s time to do a few watercolors, just to reassure yourself! But I feel that you are going to have a breakthrough soon – that’s usually the way we feel just before we jump a level, so don’t stop oil painting now….I don’t know why it works that way, but it always seems to.


How about painting something else with the oils. Plein-air imaginative compositions, perhaps of your fellow painters. Or make abstract elements of the scene using the colors and brush strokes you’re liking.

It’s not the medium, it’s the focus.


The feeling of the final painting to me is the light and dark of a cloudy moody day.

Maybe if you do some quick WC sketches and drawings in the evenings or take a Sunday and leave the oils at home. I think Casey is right, it is usually right before a breakthrough that we feel the most frustration.


I paint in oils but I hate plein air with oil. There is so much to take and the panels are wet when you go to leave. I take my acrylics with me when I go out to paint and then paint my oils in my studio from these sketches.


I SO agree with Casey, my friend … I spent the w/e too trying to get something to look like what it did in my head — the more I worked it, the worse it became .. finally, I did one last ‘FAST’ on e– no more than 30 min — and guess what? It was the best of all the w/e — go figure — maybe, and I’m in the same boat as you are, that the persistence pays off after a while … or maybe … a change of pace is what’s needed. I wish I knew, Jana .. all I know is that you’re not alone in this struggle of learning .. but I suppose that’s what it’s about — the learning — the rest will come … (I hope) …

But on a positive note — you truly truly are improving in your oils … remember, you’ve been at sketching and wc FAR longer than oils — and i’m suspecting you felt just the same way you are now when you began wc … so breath .. give yourself a time limit — and let the oil flow — then put it way — and work on something else …. it’s coming along — it really is!



I completely sympathise. Having only had one go with oils I’m in no position to know, but it just seems like the most horrible medium to use. Anyway good on you for persisting.


I hear you Jana. I felt the very same way last week. I wondered what this was about, after all I love my new flirt with oils. Where was this coming from? For me I realized it was because I had already gone through this when I was trying to learn watercolors. I remember trying and feeling frustrated with the work I had produced. Now, when I find this feeling coming on after working with oils, I make sure and get back to my watercolors paint a little something and just kind of take a breather from my oils. So, my feeling is that it’s part of growth… and something we just have to deal with. *wink


Oh, Jana, how frustrating this sounds! I am a completely untutored art lover, but I will tell you that I really like the oil — there’s something so enticing about the way you’ve chosen to show only part of the structure. I wanted to roll down that hill! I’m so looking forward to seeing what comes of all this. If you’re on your way to a breakthrough (and I do agree that sometimes it’s right when you feel the most frustrated that something gives and you’re on the other side), I can’t wait to see what you break through TO! xo


Jana, I back tracked a bit from a visit to my blog to find yours. It sounds like you are new to oil painting plein air. Just think, you’ve got all those discoveries ahead of you. It’s like learning to paint all over again. When we first start, our heads are full of all the things we know we’re supposed to do and all of it gets in the way. Then one of those things starts getting easier and we don’t have to really think about that one thing any more. Wala! you have more time to concentrate on the task at hand, then another problem you have works out and then another and another until one day you’re looking at a really nice plein air oil and asking yourself how you got there. And it’ll happen. Persistance is what will make you a fine plein air paintier. Sounds like you have what it takes.
Eldon Warren


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