Plein Air to Studio Tips from Tom Thomson (Part I)

2018 was the year of plein air painting for me.  I spent a lot of time outside getting inspired by nature – finishing little paintings in 2 -3 days, trying to capture the light and feeling of a fleeting moment in nature.

Many of you have those paintings on your walls, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.  In moments of self-doubt (and believe me, every artist has many!) I remember that you believed in my work – and connected with it.  You keep me going.

Thank you!

Looking Ahead to 2019

My addiction continues, so you can expect to see many more of these little ones next year.

But I’ve been thinking: what if I take a little painting I made outside, bring it into the studio and spend some real time with it?  Blow it up bigger, move things around for better line, rhythm etc., but maintain the colours that I saw?

Can I make a better painting?

This isn’t a new concept – in fact it’s the original point of plein air painting.  Funny how it can take a while for the penny to drop!

Learning from Tom Thomson

I spent some time this week looking at plein air sketches from the Group of 7 and Tom Thomson, and their subsequent studio works.

I particularly love how Tom Thomson turned this little sketch into a much larger finished work:

Tom Thomson, Sketch for In Algonquin Park, Fall 1914
Tom Thomson, Sketch for In Algonquin Park, Fall 1914, ~ 9″x10.5″
Tom Thomson, In Algonquin Park, 1914-15
Tom Thomson, In Algonquin Park, 1914-15 ~ 25″ x 32″

In my next post I’ll talk about what he changed between the two, and why I think he might have done so.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that of the 400 quick plein air sketches Tom Thomson achieved in his (short) lifetime, only about 50 were turned into larger canvases.

Which version do you prefer?

And why do you think he made the changes he did?

‘Til next time,


PS – You can see the two paintings above in person at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg until November 2019!

PPS – You can also see my painting Spirit of the Valley at the McMichael until January 6th, along with other winners of this years’ Plein Air painting contest.





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