Plein Air Painting from John Taft Workshop

| June 16, 2009
john taft workshop painting

First Plein Air Painting from John Taft Workshop

So this is my first plein air painting – after instruction – from the John Taft workshop I attended two weeks ago. The painting before this was on the first day that we went out before having a lecture or live demonstration. Needless to say, I feel that this one turned out better than that one! One challenge with this painting was that the light was pretty flat. Although the major masses were evident to me, the warm/cool transitions were tough for my untrained eye to see. I focused primarily on the basics, which were establishing the composition, identifying the major masses and trying to get the planes right. The sky is the lightest, followed by the ground plane, then the inclines, and finally the vertical planes being the darkest. One thing that I think helped was mixing three puddles of accurate color for my major masses and then warming and cooling them bit-by-bit as I built the painting. Also, I mixed my greens primarily with Cad. Yellow Pale and Ultramarine Blue. As I learned during the mixing lecture, a mixed green is going to be less saturated than starting with Viridian. As a result, I feel the greens are more believable in the context of a true landscape. In some of my prior paintings, greens that I started with either Thalo Green or Viridian were way to intense, causing them to look fake and out of place. Not to say that can never work, it just was not working for me at my level of experience. I have another plein air piece that I really like that I will post soon. I am considering trying to make that one into a larger painting for more experience with a bigger canvas.

Category: Fine Art and Painting

Comments (7)

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  1. Sounds like you got a lot out of the workshop, and some nice paintings too! I used to have viridian on my palette and got rid of it for the same reasons – it’s so strong that it’s hard to dull down enough unless you mix in a ton of red. I still put a dot of it on my palette, but only use it occasionally to give my skies some brightness. It can work, but it requires a lot of extra mixing and care, so I figure why bother?

  2. Ric says:

    Flat light is always challenging no matter what your media of choice is. There are rare occasions when it can work to your advantage but when trying to create something conveying a lot of depth it’s particularly difficult.

    I really like your color palette in this painting. It feels very natural.

  3. Lee says:

    Hi Stacey. Thanks for sharing your palette insights. I am learning that I probably bought way to many tubes of color just starting out. I guess they may come in handy someday when looking for the perfect color that I just cant mix. I read recently that Scott Christensen uses a very limited palette and his pieces are gorgeous!

  4. Lee says:

    Thanks Ric. I see the exercise of painting in flat light as good experience. I would not normally chose to paint in that light but we did not have much choice that day. I think the experience may have helped me see better in good light as well. Thanks for the comment on the palette. I actually saw this as a small victory considering the garishness of some of my paintings last year. Progress I guess!

  5. It must be wonderful to attend a work shop and learn so much from such a great artist. The greens in your piece look very believable and natural, I mix my greens too, there are many combinations of yellows,blues,ochres a black etc that give a variety of greens. There is a series of books called ‘The Oil (watercolor,pastel,etc) Painters Pallette’ that illustrates the combinations, and is useful for mixing all sorts of colors too.

  6. Lee says:

    Hi Diana. I hope you are enjoying your time in the US. Thanks for the tip on the book. I will check it out. FYI, I was born in England. My mum is english and my dad was from NY! When I go to Spain, I will have to drop you an email for travel tips!

  7. Lee says:

    I wanted to post some feedback that I recently received from friend and artist Randy Saffle. I appreciate critical feedback and thought others may learn from his insights on this piece.

    Below is Randy’s feedback with minor edits. Thanks Randy!


    Good job Lee. Glad to have you back.

    I use a limited palette also. A cool & warm version of red, yellow and blue plus white. Always mixing the greens. I only use Viridian or Thalo Green to add a little punch to the mix or to grey out a color. Greens are tricky. You did a very good job, especially considering this was your first Plein Air outing. It sounded like you had a fun mixture of weather and lighting to deal with.

    I consider you a friend and have a critique of your latest post for you. I am in no way an expert and this is only my opinion. One of the best things I get from knowing other painters is sharing advice and opinions.

    There are a few spots in the picture that I can offer some tips on…

    The green field on the right is too close to the green at the base of the hill and creates a horizontal band straight across. I think you could have lightened the value of the middle right ground to create more depth and help lead the eye through the painting.

    I feel the right distant mountain top could have been softer where it meets the sky. It has a hard edge to it. Also, the distant mountain could use a few tonal changes so it is not such a large solid mass.

    Adding some heavier more textured strokes in the foreground would make that area come forward and also add depth. Texture brings things forward.

    The little rocks at the right are a little bright and draw my eye towards them. Adding some more muted values to them and moving those colors around the foreground would help.

    Also the sky seems to have a little of the green mixed into it on the left side. Keep your sky colors as clean as possible.

    I like all of the colors you put into the rocks, especially the light purples at the base area. The greens do look very good. I think mixing them was the right idea. Your composition is real nice.

    It is a very good job!!! I bet Taft didn’t critique as hard as I did. :?)