Raise your hand if this describes you, past or present. You stuff your backpack to the brim with paints, pochade box, paper towels, view finder, umbrella, small folding chair, turps, snacks, bug spray, hat, kitchen sink, etc. Then in your other hand you juggle your RayMar 12 x 16 wet panel carrier, tripod, plastic bags, extra large tube of white, etc.
Loaded down, shoulders cracking under the weight of the back pack, you hike out to the perfect vista. But that perfect vista is a bit elusive. Maybe over the next hillside? Or down past the stream, out of the direct sunlight?
Eventually you settle on a spot and disassemble your portable studio. The breeze carries off the plastic bags and you run after them. You forgot to squeeze out paint before hand and take a few minutes to load up the pochade box palette. Finally, you slip out that 12 x 16 panel and affix it to the pochade box clamp. You start to block in the scene. You mix puddles of paint. Squint to get the values right. Adjust. Wipe off. Readjust the composition. Yeah! Now you're in the flow! Well, sort of.
After a few hours you realize that the light changed about thirty two times. You wonder if maybe the 12 x 16 panel was a bit...ambitious? You've got a smear of cad red across your forehead, but you don't know it.
Been there, done that. I guess it's just human nature to bite off more than we can chew. Most plein air painters salivate over the prospect of crafting a large piece in the field. Something that other painters will trudge by and say, "Wow! Look at that!" However, more likely they peg you as a newbie. Don't feel bad, every plein air painter passes through this field painting crucible.
If you want to accelerate your painting growth, both in the field or studio, I have a little trick for you. Paint small. Painting small is an excellent way to accumulate more experience, faster. It's also cost effective. You'll save on paint and small panels cost less. A lot of the pros like Kevin Macpherson and Scott L. Christensen encourage students to do lots of small paintings. "Miles and miles of canvas," as Macpherson has written.
There's an excellent little book that came out a few years ago by Joyce Washer entitled "Big Art, Small Canvas-Paint Easier, Faster and Better With Small Oils." The book does a far better job than me explaining the many benefits of small oils. You can read more about the book here.
There's little point in wasting a ton of paint and time on large pieces when you're starting out. I remember Scott Christensen encouraging us to do small sky studies, tree studies and rock studies. Until you learn how to render these things well, what's the point in doing a large piece? The problems you encounter painting these elements of the landscape only get magnified with larger canvases.
Painting small also saves you embarrassment in the field. Instead of being the obvious neophyte who lugs an entire studio outdoors, why not carry a small pochade box and some 6 x 8 panels? There are plenty of small pochade boxes you can buy, and the weight in your backpack won't crush your spine. By doing multiple small studies in the field, you'll learn to stop slaving over every detail and render more quickly.
Painting small will accelerate your artistic growth. A lot of your studies will be clunkers but some will be gems. Wipe off the bad ones and start anew. Then, once your skill set improves considerably, you can graduate to 8 x 10 and 9 x 12 panels. Eventually, you might end up like Scott L. Christensen, dancing outdoors in front of a five foot canvas! But for now...start small! You'll be glad you did.