Getting Started in Plein Air Painting

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Have you ever wanted to move out of the studio to paint the great outdoors but were afraid to get started? Learn Michael Chesley Johnson’s best tips, tricks, and techniques for painting in plein air in oil, pastel, or acrylic in this online painting course. Whether you’re new to plein air painting or are seeking additional help, you’ll find the insights and guidance you need in this 4-week course.

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Course registration comes with a digital download of The Painterly Approach by Bob Rohm, Prepare for Plein Air by Michael Chesley Johnson, and a selection of instructional videos.

Start Date:

July 1, 2014

Tuition:

$159.99

Workshop Length:

4 weeks

Instructor:

Michael Chesley Johnson (bio)

View Course Schedule

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Course Materials (included in tuition):

What You’ll Learn

  • How to use essential plein air tools and materials
  • Michael’s process for capturing the landscape without sacrificing mood or magic
  • Additional plein air painting tips to help you move beyond the basics

Who should take this workshop:

  • Artists new to plein air painting but who have experience in their medium
  • Experienced plein air painters wishing to fine-tune their skills

ART SUPPLIES YOU’LL NEED:
(Note: The following is a list of suggested supplies. You should use whatever materials you normally use in the studio, but do get the items in the section “Outdoor Items for Any Medium.”)

For Oil or Acrylic Painters:

  • Paints: Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White, Ivory Black
  • Panels: Ampersand Gessobord, 9×12
  • Brushes: Hog bristle flats (#10, #8, #4)

Additional for Oil Painters:

  • Wet panel carrier
  • Gamsol or other odorless mineral spirits (OMS)
  • Lidded container for OMS

For Pastel Painters:

  • Pastels: Full set of hard pastels plus a selection of soft ones
  • Paper: Sanded pastel paper that can take a wash such as Kitty Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper or Uart Sanded Pastel Paper, white 9×12
  • Backboard to tape paper to
  • Rubbing alcohol, Gamsol or other odorless mineral spirits
  • Cheap 1″ trim brush, the kind you use for painting houses
  • Container for alcohol, masking tape

Outdoor Items for Any Medium:

  • Digital camera
  • Stable and sturdy outdoor easel
  • Paper towels and small garbage bags for trash disposal
  • Small Sketchbook and 6B drawing pencil for making thumbnail sketches
  • Viewfinder
  • Gray scale
  • Hat, sunblock, and water bottle
  • “Baby Wipes” for cleaning fingers
  • Appropriate clothing and shoe wear

Optional:

  • Plein air umbrella
  • Stool

General
In order to be successful with this course, read assigned pages from The Painterly Approach (TPA), Prepare for Plein Air (PPA), and watch the videos.

All assignments other than thumbnail sketches should be completed on 9×12 panels or papers (whichever is appropriate for your medium) and scanned or photographed, full size, at 72 dpi, jpeg or tiff. Thumbnail sketches should be completed on sketch paper and scanned or photographed, full size, at 72 dpi, jpeg or tiff.

All assignments must be submitted through the Blackboard System for evaluation.


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Course Syllabus

Lesson 1: Getting Started

  • Learning about essential materials and equipment
  • Learning about values
  • Learning to simplify the landscape with thumbnail sketches
  • Read TPA pages 11-19, 21, 44-48
  • Read PPA in its entirety
  • Watch the videos “Equipment” and “Value Basics”

Homework assignment:

  • Using the viewfinder, grey scale, sketchbook and pencil, go out in the field and select a scene. Create four small (no larger than 3″x4″) thumbnail sketches of the same scene. Each sketch should be differently composed, allowing you to explore different design possibilities. Keep in mind that you want to simplify shapes as described in the texts and use no more than four values of grey as described in the video. Sketch proportions should be the same as a 9×12 panel. (Save these sketches for Lesson 2)
  • Go into the field with your gear, set it up, and take a good photo of it
  • Submit sketches and photo through the Blackboard System

Lesson 2: More on Value and Composition

  • Learning to pick a subject and compose in the field
  • Learning to transfer your sketch to your painting surface
  • Getting familiar with gear in the field and learning to create a monochromatic study
  • Read TPA pages 38-43
  • Watch the videos “Picking a Subject” and “Composing in the Field”

Homework assignment:

  • Go into the field with your gear and select a scene. (You can use the same one you used earlier or a new one.) First, take a photograph of the scene. Next, create a thumbnail sketch to establish your composition. Then, transfer the sketch by first dividing both it and your painting surface into thirds with a pencil grid. Next, set up your gear and, using the medium of your choice, lightly sketch in the major shapes of the scene using the pencil grid as a visual aid. You should have no more than five or six major shapes, as described in the videos
  • Then, use just one color to block in your scene. Usually, brown is a good choice, and you can mix this in oil or acrylic, using white or black to adjust value. If working pastel, you can select a set of browns that go from dark to light values. Keep in mind that, whatever your medium, you should use only four values. Finally, use this underpainting as a base to create a finished painting, using just the one color, adjusting value as necessary
  • Submit your scene photo and finished painting through the Blackboard System

Lesson 3: Color

  • Learning how color works in the landscape
  • Read TPA pages 49-66, 91-102
  • Watch either the video “Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil” or “Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Pastel,” whichever is appropriate for you

Homework assignment:

  • Go into the field with your gear and select a scene. (You can use the same one you used earlier or a new one.) First, take a photograph of the scene. Create a thumbnail sketch as before and transfer it to your painting surface. Then, block in each shape with the average color and value that you see in it. (Still keep to four values, and if you are using oil or acrylic, try to avoid using white or black at this stage; let the value of the color from the tube do your work for you with value and work transparently.) Finally, use this underpainting as a base to create a finished painting, using full color. If painting in oil or acrylic, you may use white and black to adjust value
  • Submit your scene photo and finished painting through the Blackboard System

Lesson 4: Creating an Illusion of Reality

  • Learning about creating a sense of distance
  • Learning about capturing mood
  • Read TPA pages 29-36, 71-73, 110-115, 124-128
  • Watch the video “Creating an Illusion of Distance”

Homework assignment:

  • Go into the field with your gear and select a scene. Try to select one that has some distance to it, such as a distant mountain. Take a photograph of the scene as before. Next, start a painting as you did in the last session (thumbnail sketch, simple shapes with four values, block in the shapes with the average color and value of each.) This time, pay special attention to distance and using the techniques described in the video. Also, consider color as an aid to capturing mood, as described in the text. For example, if the scene is dominantly warm, you may use yellows and oranges in sunlit areas, and cooler colors such as violets and blues in the shadow areas
  • Submit your scene photo and finished painting through the Blackboard System

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