Kevin Macpherson: Colorful Impressionist Landscapes

0808macp8_600x293Master landscape colorist Kevin Macpherson is a plein air impressionist who is passionate about sharing his skills with other artists through informative workshops, books, and DVDs. Here, he answers questions regarding his training, his technique, and his popular teaching style.

Interview by Allison Malafronte

Inspired (Reims Cathedral) oil, 14 x 11. Courtesy Studio Escondido, Taos, New Mexico.
Inspired (Reims Cathedral)
oil, 14 x 11. Courtesy Studio Escondido, Taos, New Mexico.

American Artist: You are adept at painting all subject matter—figures, still lifes, and landscapes—but are best known and revered for your landscape work. What is it about the genre of landscape painting that continues to inspire you?

Kevin Macpherson: I believe an artist best paints what he or she experiences. I live in a quiet, natural environment high in the mountains east of Taos, New Mexico. My neighbors are aspen trees and ponderosa pines. My view overlooks a small pond, and I am constantly stimulated by the seasonal and climatic changes. Wildflowers entice me to capture their color in a landscape or a still life. Sunlight and shadow offer me infinite imaginative compositions, if only I have the time to interpret them all on canvas. Any visual sensations/combination of color and values can inspire me, be it a still life or an architectural or pure, natural landscapes. When I spend more time in a city, I am drawn to people. I would no doubt paint more figurative works if I were a city dweller.

Old Times (Catalina Island)
oil, 20 x 30. Courtesy Redfern Gallery, Laguna Beach, California.

AA: Looking back at your art training, can you identify certain lessons or experiences that prepared you for the level of painting you have achieved now in plein air painting? In retrospect, do see anything that was lacking in your art training or that you wish you had concentrated on earlier?

KM: I was fortunate to find an inspiring and demanding instructor, Chris Magadini, while majoring in illustration at Northern Arizona University. My talent was apparent since early childhood, but without guidance and discipline I would have floundered. Upon graduation I became a freelance illustrator, and the demanding workload and creative energy needed for this career was a foundation for the skills and business sense I would need as a fine artist. Further study at the Scottsdale Artists’ School with such wonderful instructors as Clyde Aspevig, John Asaro, Henry Casselli, and Ray Vinella, to name a few, fostered my pursuit of painting from life.

Jewel of the Rockies (Lake Louise)
oil, 16 x 20. Courtesy Studio Escondido, Taos New Mexico.

I often wonder what it would have been like to have had an artistic mentor as a young child, but perhaps it was best to start serious study at an age of relative maturity. One thing an artist can never do enough is drawing. It is a foundation that will help serve an artist throughout his or her entire career. The lack of good drawing skills will continue to haunt an artist trying to become his or her best.

AA: What was your training/experience in relation to color? Do you consider yourself more rooted in the French or American style of Impressionist color?

KM: I own many wonderful art books, but the one book that taught me the most about color is Charles Hawthorne on Color. It is a simple book that stresses truthful observation. I also believe my nearsightedness heightens my sensation to color fields. I am an admirer of both French and American Impressionism but am a bit more influenced by the American California Impressionism school.

The Golden State
oil, 36 x 72. Courtesy Redfern Gallery, Laguna Beach, California.

AA: What colors are on your palette and how do you approach the color-mixing/color application process as it applies to the landscape?

KM: I have always used a very simple palette. My key palette is cadmium yellow light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and titanium white. I can find all the color mixtures with this limited palette and actually find this palette more liberating than limiting. As I extended my palette I added two colors: cadmium red light and thalo green. The addition of these add a significant range, especially thalo green, which although a powerful and sometimes overwhelming color, can be used judiciously to extend the possibilities of color and value. Gamblin Artist’s Oil Colors created The Kevin Macpherson Plein Air Color and Medium Set, which also includes three Portland grays and a chromatic black. These are very useful colors to help compose the value arrangements in paintings.

Quai de LaTournelle
oil, 11 x 14. Courtesy Studio Escondido, Taos, New Mexico.

With my limited palette I usually mix all my shadow colors first and then continue with my light family colors. I am quite literal to what I see and mix to capture the harmony nature presents. The Gamblin grays help guide my value choices.

AA: One of the main lessons you cover in your book Landscape Painting Inside & Out is how plein air artists can take their on-site studies and use them to create larger studio work. Can you summarize the advice you offer artists in this area?

KM: Painting en plein air, directly observing nature, is the best way for me to be inspired. Painting from nature keeps my color choices honest without formulas. My conversation with nature directs my brush, and this is the best dialogue in which to engage an emotional interpretation of nature. Once in the studio I can reflect on my experience with nature and the knowledge gained through sincere interaction with my subject.

I approach my larger studio piece as an interpretation of the small study, not a copy (just as the study is not a copy of nature but my interpretation). My study is my departure point, and if my color notes are explained in the plein air study and my memory is sharp, I let my imagination go to a new place.

Autumn Reflections
oil, 12 x 16. Courtesy Studio Escondido, Taos, New Mexico.

AA: You are an avid traveler and have painted in locations all over the world. As a plein air painter, what type of environment/location inspires you the most, and what would you say is your favorite place to paint?

KM: I’d have to say my view from my home is one of my favorite places to paint, and I have documented every day and season change in my series of 368 paintings titled “Reflections on a Pond”. This series is a traveling exhibition and recorded in my book of the same name. The intimacy of this subject inspires me to paint as does the curious newness of each wonderful location that my wife, Wanda, and I encounter on our worldly painting excursions. I think living each day as a vacation day really sparks the flame of artistic imagination.

AA: You are currently represented by only two galleries, Redfern Gallery and Studio Escondido, but there are surely many more looking to represent you. Is it a conscious business decision that you make to limit your gallery representation?

Black Diamond
oil, 50 x 40. Courtesy Redfern Gallery, Laguna Beach, California.

KM: Studio Escondido is my studio gallery and Redfern Gallery exhibits the California Impressionist masters along with three living artists. Ray Redfern is an honest dealer, a man of integrity, and a friend I have worked with for nearly 20 years. I think it is important to find a respectful relationship for representation, and Ray sells most everything I produce.

AA: Imparting your artistic knowledge and experience to other artists through workshops, DVDs, and books is part of what makes you so popular in the art community. Does it benefit you as an artist as well to give back and share your talent with others?

KM: Teaching and mentoring students has become a very rewarding part of my career.  As a career choice, it does help build a wide audience but is also very time-consuming and demanding and takes away from the act of painting. A good teacher has to love teaching.

AA: What artists, both past and present, do you admire?

Norwegian Wake Up
oil, 11 x 14. Courtesy Studio Escondido, Taos, New Mexico.

KM: The California Impressionists, such as Edgar Payne and William Wendt; the French Impressionists, especially Monet; Taos artist E. Martin Hennings; American painters Emil Carlsen, John Henry Twachtman, and Edward Henry Potthast; and the great American illustrators, such as Harvey Dunn, Howard Pyle, and Dean Cornwell. We are fortunate today to have so many artists willing to share the struggles and goals of becoming the best artist possible, such as my friends in the Plein-Air Painters of America. (Of course my favorite contemporary artist is Wanda Macpherson.)

AA: What are your thoughts on the privileges of being an artist?

KM: I believe art is a gift, and as we unwrap, open, and use our gifts, we see other gifts inside. Using and sharing our gifts enriches our lives and rewards us in unimaginable ways.

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One thought on “Kevin Macpherson: Colorful Impressionist Landscapes

  1. Kevin Macpherson’s work is possibly the most enjoyable example of modern day impressionism. Where the original impressionists often neglected drawing in pursuit of color Kevin Macpherson creates work that offers both delicious color notes and accurate drawing. His book on color, “Fill your oil paintings with light and color”, has been one of the most useful books in my large library of art books. He has expanded on Hawthorne’s advice to look for the color “spots” and do many “starts”. A very enjoyable and inspiring book.