Fixing a Plein Air Painting in Studio

We had some extreme light challenges during yesterday’s plein air workshop in the park beside Credit Valley Artisans.  Skies went from dark grey to blue to white within minutes.    And as the skies changed, so did the scenes we were looking at.  Making a cohesive painting was tough!

I went in hoping to show students how to hold the original scene in their minds – and they did! – but my own demo painting got foiled.  Lovely Kathie told me it was because my attention was so divided between students’ work and my own – thanks, Kathie!  We’ll go with that!  🙂

But I’m blogging for posterity; I want to show you that this is not unusual, and it’s perfectly fine to go back to the studio and pull a “plein air” painting back from the trash heap.

Here’s how I pulled mine back from the depths.

  1. I took a reference photo of the scene.  The light was terrible when I took this – all flat.  It’s so much easier to make a great plein air painting when the light behaves for you!


2. Here’s my on-site sketch of the colours I saw.  I was happy with the composition (I had the Diamond Guide in mind as I worked, as always).  But at this point I felt that the painting was getting too dabbly, tending towards over-worked in areas and under-worked in others, and at the same time had lost some of my initial feelings about the scene.  It was time to call it a day.


This morning, painting still wet, I dove back in.  I saw that the path wasn’t really giving us a place to go into, the dappled light was definitely lost, and a lot of the detail work was actually distracting the viewer from the main story of the painting.  My students often hear me taking about choir members trying to be divas – here’s an example!

3.  Then I got to work.

  • Step one was to beef up those highlights in the foreground grasses and try to reclaim the dappled light that initially drew me to the scene.  I doubled that effect by darkening the foreground darks significantly.
  • I pushed the light more to the warm (with cad. lemon + white), and pushed the shadows more to the cool (with viridian + ult. blue mixes, some yellow ochre and cad lemon thrown in for variety).
  • Some of the choir divas were shushed: big brush strokes calmed the bush in the top left, and cool colours on the bare trunk pushed it into the background.
  • I also got a little knife-happy with some highlights on leaves throughout the scene.


4. Final Touches

Summer Phlox 3 June 2018

The painting is about the summer phlox along the path, and the dappled sunlight on the pathway.  Now it’s reading better, and I’m happy with it.

So it was a successful day – with fantastic student paintings too!

Summer Phlox, 9″x12″ Oil on Canvas, c Christy Michalak, June 2018

Related Posts

  1. 3 Easy Ways to Take your Landscape Paintings to the Next Level
  2. Connecting with Elora en Plein Air




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