15 Lessons I Learned At 10-Day Intensive #1


1. There’s a lot more blue out in the distance than you think there is…

… and yellow drops out fast as you move from the foreground to the horizon.

2. Before you even start to sketch out on your panel, ask yourself, “Is this line interesting?” ‘Cause if the answer is “no,” it won’t matter how much downstream futzing or happy trees you apply.

Even your mom won’t like it.

3. Face the sun to paint, regardless of what view you are trying to capture. Either that, or set yourself up so both your panel and your palette are in the shade. Otherwise, your darkest value will end up way too dark to handle any detail in your shadows.

While you’re at it, slap on the sunscreen and a hat. If you don’t, at an altitude of ~ 6000 ft., you run the risk of a Code Red sunburn.

(Forgot to lube my forearms and for three days, I looked like the “See what could happen to you?!” poster-child for the American Association of Nagging Dermatologists.)

4. There is no one right way to set yourself up.

5. Plein air painting is about information gathering and not necessarily about making a painting while you’re standing outside.

6. Even though plein air painting is about gathering information, you still need to treat the image as a deliberately designed whole, inviting as much interesting variation of line, temperature, edges, etc. as one main feature of interest can sustain and as the painting itself can bear.

Ha! Good luck with that.

7. Three or four informed brush strokes can shift everything. This is only actually possible if you’ve held something in reserve.

“Reserve is strength. Overstatement is weakness.”


8. Every piece of gear you choose for the field is important. Everything from the car you drive in…

9. … to the brushes you use…

10A. … to the ubiquitous paper towels. I had no idea paper towels were so critical to oil painters.

10B. If you accidentally step on protected wildlife, at least enjoy them as cherished things of beauty, sacrificing even your precious water bottle if necessary.

10C. Stay well hydrated.

11. Your body is both an ally and a foe, alternately working with you and your eye, and against you and your canvas. How you manage it will affect the quality of your work.

For instance, if you hold your head sideways and flick your eyes between the color of the horizon on the canvas and the color of the actual horizon in the distance, you’ll see how close (or how off) your color is. Why this doesn’t work standing up straight is probably related to some rudimentary mammalian eyeball functionality. Or something.

In any case, painters sometimes have to trick themselves into seeing what’s actually there.

12. How you hold your brush counts too.

13. Everyone sees green differently. And after a couple of days staring at it, green can hurt your brain.

How do you spell “relief?”


14. Aspens can also mess with your head. However, they make a superlative study in how to not paint the same line twice, and how to make sure you are selecting unequal masses and values in light and shadow.

15. In a world where physical beauty demands perfect symmetry, the necessity to design for deliberate asymmetry to create variety and interest represents an unnatural act.

My grand take-away?

Learning to paint well is like learning to juggle chainsaws: Orchestration of the whole really matters.

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