Posted on 07/15/2016 at 1:18pm

The artists that join me on adventures to interesting and beautiful destinations to create and paint are at many different levels of experience. Studio artists who have worked for many years from photographs and those who have never tried painting directly from nature will have the most success and fun if they can let go of preconceived notions when they do plein air with oils.

One technique I use and share in my workshops is how I begin a painting. I try to capture my strongest dark values first, and then once I have my composition loosely worked up with the help of special artist tools and various tricks-of-the-trade, I can begin to work my subject’s detail by still continuing in the value study only, by then adding some highlights with additional tools.

Working quickly, I am creating a balance in the details through my value study right from the start. That early work on the painting helps me to do even the most difficult compositions with relative ease of accomplishment. Working the first 15 to 30 minutes this way gives me much better results later in the painting.

Often my students will want to dive right into using a palette of full color, trying to mix deep values that are difficult to achieve  because of their intensity. In order to hold down the values within a complicated composition, I have found it is best to hold back on most color for a little while.

I begin a painting using a mixture of French Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Red, the deepest I can find, and in 15 to 30 minutes my plein air composition begins to take shape. I then squeeze out some Cadmium Yellow, a touch of Thalo Blue, Alizeran Crimson, and a few greens. (I like Sap Green, Veridian, and Winsor Yellow.)  Lots of color variety within a painting is great, but I try to hold back on most of those until I am sure my composition and value study are ready for me to plow ahead!

My experience painting plein air for over 30 years has taught me that if I go to full color mixing too soon, I sometimes lose my way, and the values can weaken quickly. As I start trying to bring my darkest values back again, areas thicken when I would prefer those to remain thin.

Below is a plein air painting that I worked on one afternoon this week. The Tennessee sun was low enough in the sky to let me work without the heat, humidity, and bugs bothering me too much. Plein Air is fun if you have determination, an adventurous spirit, and the ability to let go if preconceived notions of how to paint in challenging surroundings. Good luck!




“Summer Garden House” Oil on Linen 8″x10″ Plein Air Copyright 2016 SRS


I welcome questions and comments.

No Comments

Artist, Writer, and Explorers Newsletter