Landscape Painting Inside & Out

0808macp5_600x510 This excerpt taken from Kevin Macpherson's popular instructional book Landscape Painting Inside & Out explains how to best use on-site studies to create finished studio pieces.

Excerpted from Chapter 6 of Landscape Painting Inside & Out

by Kevin Macpherson

Many outdoor attempts fall short of successful, yet possess qualities that can be improved on into a grander statement in the studio. Each truthful color note on a plein air study is a priceless seed of information that can transform your studio work to higher levels. Also, in the studio you can practice picture-making principles and experiment in a controlled environment.

Indoor and outdoor painting are complementary experiences. As memories of nature breathe life into your studio work, the disciplined approaches and principles you practice indoors will enable you to attack the canvas outdoors in new ways.


Outdoor Plein Air Studies

Study No. 1: The Light
At Big Bend Park in southern Texas, the light raked quickly. I really liked the color combinations nature offered this day. An anxious feeling overcame my body as I raced to get this study down, partly due to a few bears that were in the vicinity. It was a bit hard to concentrate.



Study No. 2: The Shapes
In my next study, I simplified the scene into even fewer shapes. This study worked out most of the visual problems.


Indoor Painting (using above plein air studies as reference)

Step 1: Lay in the Plan
Put a few dabs of cadmium yellow light, a pinch of cadmium red light, and a drip of mineral spirits right on your canvas. Wipe this all over the canvas with a rag to create a warm cast. Use Portland gray medium tinted with a little cadmium red light to quickly block in the shadows. (The yellow undertone will also get stirred in as you paint, further altering the gray.) Be conscious of the light shapes that are being created negatively, and try to connect them. Introduce some tints of other colors into the gray for the foreground shapes. You may notice that I wiped off some paint and reshaped the light areas.


Step 2: Add the Shadows
Use Portland gray to establish the next range of shadow values. Warm the gray with a bit of cadmium red light for the distant cliffs. Mix some chromatic black into the gray for a few accents. The Portland gray medium you applied in Step 1 appears more luminous in the cliffs. It looks lighter because of the contrast with the dark cliff at the right. In a sense, you have lightened one area making an adjacent area darker.


Step 3: Fill in the Colors
Using a No. 1 bristle bright, boldly and simply fill in shapes with color. Follow the parameters of light and shade already established. I used warm mixtures on the light sides of the cliffs and cooler ones on the shadow sides. Fill in the sky, working from right to left. It can be darker in value than you might think it should be, this will afford room for the cliffs to be sunlit and colorful. Make the sky warmer to the right (the sun side), cooler to the left. Move all around the canvas without making any area more finished than another. This degree of finish could be left as is for a simple, bold statement, but we'll forge ahead, for better or worse.


Step 4: Finish
Play in the light and shadow, using the No. 10 bright and Nos. 6 to 8 filberts. A No. 6 filbert is plenty small even for the narrowest shapes. Manipulate the brush on its side and adjust shapes negatively. Find variation in the shadowed foreground. Search for colors that will enhance the effect of form and volume in the foothills. Cooler sky light illuminates the top planes of the rocky formations, whereas warm light reflects back into the upright planes. Make sure that the val-hues you choose for the shadow areas live within the shadow family, and do likewise for the light family. Use broken color in the sky to add vitality to this relatively flat shape. A photograph cannot exhibit the vibrations of color you see when viewing life firsthand. Contrast attracts the eye, so diminish the contrast in the shadow areas of the upper cliffs. This in turn creates more atmospheric light in the scene. Be careful not to destroy the light and shadow patterns when lightening areas.


For more information on Kevin Macpherson, including a list of upcoming workshops, exhibitions, and his instructional books and DVDs, visit

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