This lesson was designed for artists interested in exploring the possibilities of painting on location. Plein air painting is a very rewarding process but takes a bit of preparation! This is a bit different from the other lessons! There isn’t a Follow-Along Demo! Watch the first part to get some ideas on how to get your gear set for the plein air experience! It’s really imperative to have your gear and supplies organized so you can relax and enjoy the process. I’ve filmed the painting of field sketches at two great Oregon locations (you’ll have to come and visit), which are meant to inspire and inform your choice of location and to help you get started. We are following the same stages as we did in the follow-along pieces; planning, drawing, blocking in, adding on and finishing! We just have a bit more to contend with!

This is a bit different from the other lessons! There isn’t a Follow-Along Demo! Watch the first part to get some ideas on how to get your gear set for the plein air experience! I’ve filmed the painting of field sketches at two great Oregon locations (you’ll have to come and visit), which are meant to inspire and inform your choice of location and to help you get started. We are following the same stages as we did in the follow-along pieces; planning, drawing, blocking in, adding on and finishing! We just have a bit more to contend with!

When you have a piece or two completed you can upload one or both images to receive your personal video critique.

Who it’s for – Artist’s looking to improve their observational skills and wanting to take on the challenge and experience of painting outdoors.

What’s it’s About – Gettting organized and accustomed to painting in plein air.

Set a Personal Focus – Maybe for this one, just getting out there is enough! Take it a step at a time!

Set a Time Limit – Don’t expect that you can stay out there all day if it’s your first time. It can be quite fatiguing. I recommend looking at the supplemental video “Carlson’s Theory of Planes”.


The most important thing is to have a good lightweight setup for working in the field with pastels.

Bring as many pastels as possible, bearing in mind that you need to store them safely and carry them into the field. I break mine in half, so that I can fit more colors into my field kit. If you are looking into a set, I prefer the and Unison Pastels or Terry Ludwig sets. Any of the soft pastels are great, however, most landscape sets tend to have too many light colors.

Recently I’ve been using Pastelmat and Pastel Premier papers, and I love them! I also use Colorfix, Uart (500 grit) and ampersand pastel boards- all good options.

  1. Sizes from 8×10 and 12×16 for plein air work.
  2. A lightweight board to tape the paper to.
  3. Kneaded eraser
  4. Artist tape or masking tape
  5. Sketchbook and pencil or pen
  6. Viewfinder; EasyL, ViewCatcher or homemade viewfinder
  7. Portable Easel- either a frenchbox easel or a pastel pochade box (I have a Heilman Backpack Box and tripod )
  8. A wide brim hat
  9. Sunscreen
  10. A water bottle
  11. Camera or cell phone

If you have any questions about materials, (easel brands, pastels, paper etc.) please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me!

Plein Air Lesson

This lesson is quite a bit different from the other lessons. It’s not a paint-along lesson. It’s independent. I think I’ve given you some good videos to help you out and get going on your own.

When we go out to paint, we want to try to have fun and create something of merit. That probably doesn’t mean the perfect piece, but rather one that you’ve gained something from whether it ultimately ends up in a frame or in a round file. Don’t expect too much from yourself at first. Painting outdoors is an extremely challenging affair. We
have a lot to contend with; our equipment, the elements, onlookers and the overwhelming sense of the bigness of what is before us. We don’t have this in the studio, painting from a small photo!

Your first task will be to find something that you want to paint. Try not to worry over this too much. Don’t over-think it. Make sure to look behind you often. Something special may be there too. Spend enough time to find something you can sink your teeth into, but don’t spend all morning making up your mind. There is so much out there that can make a wonderful painting. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Even a little tuft of brush and some wildflowers poking out in front of it can make a valid motif. Remember, it’s what you bring to the scene that counts. If you are enchanted, likely your viewer would be too. Look for patterns of light and shadow. Look for a focal point or area of interest. Your job will be orchestrating what you see into a composition. It is very important to use a viewfinder to help you determine your composition. This will help you keep from drifting out of your scene and narrow your focus to a manageable view.

Mentally divide you scene into the shapes that are in light and ones that are in shadow. If it’s a cloudy day, divide by large obvious shapes. Take the time to do a line sketch and a value sketch before you make a final decision about what to paint. The divisions in a viewfinder with wire, help to facilitate sketching your scene. The value sketch should incorporate Carlson’s 4 value approach. (Watch the video on Carlson’s Theory). I recommend trying your idea in at least 2 proportional arrangements. For example, try a square and a horizontal. Once you feel like you have something that you are happy with, set up your easel. Not before. This will save on time and aggravation. I know you’ll be anxious to stake out your spot, but resist this until you really know where that is.

Get set up. Make sure your feel comfortable enough to stay for an hour to two hours. You might try setting up so that your easel faces toward the sun and thus your painting surface is in the shade. I have a harder time seeing the colors accurately this way, so I usually set up with my painting surface in sunlight. This is a really personal choice and will depend just on what is most comfortable to you. After you’re set up, take a photo of your scene. This will greatly assist you later should you decide to make some adjustments to your piece in the studio. Also, take a moment to write down a couple of sentences about why you are attracted to your scene. These words are not notes about color, value etc, (which can also be valuable later), this is what enchanted you! Now you are ready to
start painting.

If I say it a hundred times over the course of the lesson, I don’t really think it would hurt, so here goes again. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Start with the simplest largest shapes first. Assign values to these shapes. Assign ones that make your composition work. What matters is the relationship between the values you give each shape. Which are in shadow and which are in light. You are the master here. Painting exactly what you see in front of you may not be what will make your piece the strongest. You may need to tweak it some. You are not merely interpreting the values, you are assigning them. This is key. Think of massing in these shapes with a wash like you might in watercolor or oil. Put the material down relatively thinly with broad strokes. If you are using pastel, you are using the whole length of the stick here.

Remember that color is the star, but value does all the work. Richard Mckinley puts it aptly this way. Value and color are intimately intertwined, but with practice you can accurately choose a color that carries the value that you are looking for. Use fractured color, (colors of the same value but of different hues), in a shape. Position
complementary colors next to on another to create simultaneous contrast. Also try colors of the same hue but different intensities. All colors are influenced by the ones beside it. This is a good argument for leaving a bit of border around your piece so you can make color swatches next to one another before you make marks on your piece.

After you’ve gotten the major shapes massed in as accurately as possible, introduce your light source to separate the shapes and add volume to the masses. Even in a landscape there are form shadows, cast shadows and reflected light. Sometimes this is harder to see outside than it is in a still life or portrait. But everything in visible light is subject to the same principles. Light and color bounce all around and influence one another. Add your darkest darks and lightest lights.

Work from the general to the specific; from the overall to the details. Spend 90% of your time on the overall and 10% on a couple of details. Usually these are the details that are nearest your center of interest or focal point. If you are 10 minutes into your painting and you find yourself rendering grass, STOP!!

Once you are satisfied that the overall piece is working and hopefully capturing some of what attracted you to the scene initially, you can spend a bit of time on some finishing touches or detail. Be careful with this. Half of painting is knowing when you’re done. It takes a bit of assessment to decide what is working and what is not quite there. Sometimes, something you like about the piece will need to be sacrificed in the service of the whole. Sometimes your piece is better of left as a sketch. Knowing when to step away takes some experience. Many times we need a breather from a piece. You may want to jot down some notes and make sure you have another photo of your scene, (the light may have changed), so you can make some adjustments later.

I really hope that you try plein air painting and it becomes part of your painting journey! When you’ve spent some time painting outdoors, post your work and I’ll send you your critique. Remember that you don’t have to travel far to experience this aspect of pastel painting; a local park or even your backyard will likely provide enough inspiration!


When You’ve Completed Both Part 1 & 2
When you’re done, click here to upload pics of your painting and I’ll send you a Personal Video Critique. I’m curious what you’ll come up with! The first critique request is a free bonus for you. If you’d like additional critiques, normally a Personal Video Critique is $97 but you can send a message my support team to get a discounted critiques package – I’ve already told them that since you are taking lessons from me, you get at least 40% off.

If you aren’t ready for a personal critique from me, then be sure to upload your work to our Community page where your peers can take a look. I often comment on the Community submissions as well – it won’t be a video critique but I really enjoy seeing your work and helping you when I can.

The Stages (applies to both part 1 & 2)

  1. Planning
    • Crop your reference, (feel free to crop it just like mine or change it up a bit).
    • Do a quick 5 to 10 minute thumbnail. This is a great way to get a feel for the piece and visualize the final version.
  2. Drawing
    • Scale up your thumbnail to the correct proportion Watch my video on scaling a sketch!
    • Lightly sketch in the essential shapes
    • Use your thumbnail sketch more than your photo reference at this point
  3. Blocking In
    • Establish the essential shapes of the piece, (3 to 5 largest shapes) Use the sides of the sticks)
    • Establish the values of those main shapes. What is the overall or average value of each shape?
    • Get a feel for how the piece works as a whole.
  4. Adding On
    • Add a variety of hues, and intensity to each shape.
    • Add texture and smooth out gradations where needed. Watch my video To Blend or Not to Blend.
    • Add a light source or direction of light.
    • Add detail.
  5. Finishing
    • Resolve any areas that need attention or TLC.
    • Slow down make color adjustments where needed.
    • Go the extra mile and exaggerate contrast and intensity where needed. Give yourself permission to do this!
Mount Bachelor Plein Air
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Distilling & Simplifying


Lesson 23