Masla, Chapel Falls, 2 minute thumbnail gesture, graphite wash on paper, 5″ x 3″

Below, is a synopsis of what was covered in the June 8th workshop at Masla Studios North, as well as a copy of a handout of a thorough check list of items for a day of painting in the field, (to be modified by the individual).
Bob painting in plein air at the Forbes House Museum, Milton MA

  Masla painting

“Introduction to Plein Air Painting Practice”

•Preparation: The wise man said the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step – so be prepared for the trip, thus you have the check list in front of you to avoid frustration for a day out painting in the field, (photo copy it so you can use it over and over again).

•Practice: Anyone can learn to draw or paint, like most skills it only takes what I have always told my kids are the 3 P’s; Patience, Practice and Persistence. As I mentioned Sunday, it is never to late to begin, Van Gogh only painted for 7 -8 years of his life.  It is all about the passion you put into it, the skill will come later as you do it more and more. But more important than the skill is your own creative signature, which is unique to you.  And that also expresses itself the more you do it. There is no wrong way to do it, your way is the right way. Explore and experiment, learn from others and remember, there are no mistakes, only opportunities for change, learning and growth. The great neo-classical painter, disciple of David, Ingre said, “The best way to learn to draw is to draw, the best way to learn to paint is to paint. That said, I encourage all of you to always carry a sketchbook with you and continually do little thumbnail gesture drawings that take anywhere from 30 sec. to 5 min. -If you do one a day I guarantee you will notice a difference, not only in your drawing skills, but also in your observation. 1 minute a day, not much, when your waiting at the dentist, or talking on the phone, sitting on the porch….

•Rules: -There are no rules, only formulas for effects.  Apply what works. The craft and skill can be learned thru the 3 P’s -what makes it art is your individual creative interpretation.

•Graphite Wash Pencils: carry one with you, a sketchbook and a waterbrush – all you need for tonal painting studies

•Process: We are not trying to produce masterpieces, we are learning to “be” and observe, (and paint while we are “being”), enjoy the process, being in nature, senses alive -What a Gift!

•Intention and Focal Point: (we only briefly touched upon this, more later) – ask yourself what is your intention and goal of this particular painting? What attracted you to the subject, the light, the edges, the composition, the subject matter, the colors, the mood? Try to…
Try to define it and then try and breath it into the painting. What will be the main point of interest, the “focal point”, it should be the area with the most contrast, (the eye always goes to the place of highest contrast) – dark and light, soft and hard edge, dulled “grey” color and full chroma, dissolved focus and detail, etc.

Brush: Hold it at different positions and different angles to create different marks and effects.

Large to Small:  Start with large brushes and seeing the large shapes, grouping the shapes together by values, layout the whole image this way before you get out the small brushes and go for the details within those shapes -and –

Step Back: To see the whole composition, see how the different shapes in your composition work together – and also stretch your legs, neck and back!

Values: In representational painting understanding and seeing the values is what makes the image “convincing”. Observe and commit to an angle of incidence – the direction that light strikes the object(s) and realize that the shadows “turn the form”. – Color and line are more, (not always, as there are no rules) expressive, emotional tools.  Do value studies and tonal paintings.

Imprimatura: A transparent stain of color placed over a white support, is a great way to start a painting for a number of reasons. Like it’s historical roots in the origins of oil painting, (and before that in Fresco Painting), artist typically applied what has been called a Verdacio layer on top of a very detailed ink drawing on panel, (on wood panels before canvas was widely used or on a “chalk”, pounced drawing on the walls in the case of fresco). The Verdacio is a greyish green color created from yellow ochre, black and white and painted in to define the various tonal values, (varying the black and white), to create a complete, detailed monochromatic underpainting, of which transparent colors are then glazed on top of the verdacio. It is a great way to learn to paint and I always teach it in my class “Painting Techniques of the Masters, Underpainting to Alla Prima. It affords the student the opportunity to thoroughly explore the composition and value structure, drawing of the subject, turning of form through values, as well as understanding progressive layering of colors, etc. without the burden of concern with the complexity of color and color mixing. The technique of imprimatura which developed during the renaissance along with many other changes in painting techniques,(i.e. each artist manipulated and created variations and adaptations to suit their own purposes further developing the variety of painting styles and approaches). It literally means “the first color”, and very quickly establishes the middle value for the artist so you can easily place the value relationships from the darkest darks to the lightest lights, (for the highlights one can either remove color to the white of the ground or add white paint and ad thicker or darker paint for the darks). It also acts as a “mother” color and harmonizes the whole composition. Typically many artist stain the canvas with earth colors, red browns, siennas or umbers, (such as Caravaggio or Rembrandt). At various times artist became partial to other colors such as the silvery greys of Titian and Rubens, or sometimes just lightly staining the canvas with their palette scrapings mixed with what remained behind in their pot used for cleaning their brushes with oil. Though the imprimatur effect by itself is quite pleasing, and I often will leave works at this stage, typically successive layers of transparent and semitransparent color glazes and opaque froties are layered on top.  Later this developed to the impressionists covering there canvas with a prominent compliment, i.e as for a large green field the stain underneath would be applied red, (the idea early on was you took care to not cover the imprimitura completely, always allowing it to show through in little places and through the final layers of paint, particularly in the middle to dark shadow areas, and sometimes those areas are so thin that the drawing underneath, if there was one, would also show through). Imprimitura is a great way to establish a strong image in a short amount of time that can then be built upon at a later point should you desire to. Many of these painting techniques developed, such as underpainting, glazing and frotie, etc. were used alongside what is today the most common, (though certainly not new), plein air technique -alla prima – “all at once”, which is a direct wet on wet technique. I will be covering alla prima and the use of color during my next painting day July 27, I hope you can join me.

• Breath! – Have Fun and Relax: -The most important things.

Masla, “Gunn Brook Falls”, thumbnail gesture, graphite wash on paper, 5″ x 3″


Masla, “Rhythms of 3’s and 4 -Gunn Brook Falls”, watercolor on canvas, completed in the studio,
20″ x 16″

Plein Air Painting Day, Preparation Check List
Robert Masla Studios,
__Dress for the weather, layers are usually appropriate, a wind breaker is good if you get cold sitting still in one spot – Wear neutral colored clothing (creams, beiges, or black, though it gets hot) avoid white can reflect too much light onto your painting or bright colors can reflect some of their color onto your painting. __Hat or visor to keep sun and glare out of your eyes and off your head.
__Water for drinking, (non-glass bottle is best), thermos with hot drink if it is cold out
__Snacks for energy __Bug spray  __Sun block __Apron (or wear “painting clothes”)  __Camera, (optional) __A plastic bag to put trash in, such as dirty pieces of paper towel, energy bar wrappers, etc. __A couple of large plastic bags can be useful as an emergency rain shield, (especially in New England), poke holes for head and arms, have a second one for your equipment and painting – or be near your car.  __If you’re going to be painting through sunset an led battery operated light, (like a head lamp), so you can see your palette and your painting helps a lot! __Roll of heavy absorbent paper towels __Small zip lock bag with some hand wipes, (for before snack and when you are done for the day). __Soap and water for cleaning brushes, if not available, large ziplock bag to store your brushes till you are able to return to the studio to clean them.

Equipment: As with most everything you purchase, quality is important for longevity and performance, but that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank. Artists are creative, innovative, resourceful, inventive and often friendly people. Search and ask, ultimately find what works for you.

__Folding stool or chair or small cushion or small blanket if your not sure if there’s going to be a convenient rock or wall to sit on and you don’t want to sit on the ground ___Best Brella, optional – if you can find consistent shade. (this is the best plein air umbrella I’ve found, not just because it was invented by a past Casa participant), keeps the glare off and light from washing out your canvas __Mahl stick/walking stick, -(optional), __Composition/Value Finder __Backpack for stuff __Easel, many options, you can even use your lap for small sketches and watercolors, think ease of transport, light weight and Sturdy, __ mesh or strong plastic bag with handles to place rocks or other weight in to hold down the easel in wind, __S hooks or small bungee cords for hooking up bags. __Palette, again there are many options, ones that have a good amount of room for laying out color and mixing are nice, as well as storing color (Masterson stay wet palette), some artists prefer the disposable paper palette, again though think light weight, strong/durable and ease of transport. __ Colors, This is a very large topic and really depends on your intention. One general rule is less is better. First off, it is a great learning experience and also often easier to harmonize a painting with a limited palette. One can mix most colors with the 3 primaries, black and white. But consider, do you wish to work with an imprematura, toned canvas, create a mono chromatic study, use a triadic or split complimentary. What is your intention, mood?
Plein Air Painting Day, Preparation Check List
Robert Masla Studios,
Equipment for Various Media:
Oil or Alkyd
__Your selection of paints, I always recommend that all painters in oil add a tube of alkyd white to their colors, (it speeds the drying of all colors it’s mixed with). ___Sealable containers for pouring mediums into, I use metal lock tight. I use 1 ___large for Painting liguids and for cleaning brushes, Gamsol or Turpnoid or Mineral Spirits and ___ 2 small palette clip on type, 1 for ___ Gamsol or other paint thinner, another for ___ Liguin or other (alkyd, or other) painting medium to manipulate paint and speed drying, on occassion I will also use ___ to keep the paint more open and pliable. I also always pack a tube of ___CAS AlkydPro Fast Dry Gel, a pure alkyd resin that does just as it’s name implies. The remainder of this list is also the same for Acrylic except for additional items listed below under Acrylic
__Disposable plastic gloves to protect your hands. __Palette Knives, (___ 1 large for mixing paint, ___1 smaller pointed knife for painting with) __Small pliers for opening hardened tubes of paint and tightening bolts,etc. on easels, ___ Sharp thin pointed tool, (such that sculptors use, or a long thin finish nail), to remove encrusted paint from tubes. ___Paper towel or cloth for wiping brushes on ___Paper, Panels or Canvas, ___ Canvas carrier, (optional) ___Brushes and transport “sheath” (same for acrylic – just not the sable brushes): ___1 each of a large (#12 or bigger), ___medium (#’s 8-12), ___small (#’s 2-6) bristle brushes in Flat, Filbert and Point. __Large Sable Blender, ___Fan Brush, (for feathering edges and other effects) ____Medium and Small Sable points, ___ 1 Script Liner, ___ Scrubber Brushes __Large, ___Med.,___Small for frotties and removing paint/imprematuras
Acrylic ___Your selection of paints, quality is important. ___2 Large containers of water, ___1 for rinsing and keeping brushes wet and 1 for clean water to mix with paint. ___ Jar of acrylic gel medium, (matte), ___ Acrylic retarder ___ Large Water Mister to keep colors open ___Brushes and transport “sheath, book or tube” -same selection as for oil – just not the sable brushes, see above
___Your selection of paints, quality is important. ___Bottle of water ____Brushes, quality is important. ___Large 2” flat wash brush -sable or stiff short hair bristle, (I like to also use Hakes as well as a large and small Sumi-e), ___1 large 1.5 -2” and ___1 Small 1/4” Flat Brushes, ___1 # 6 or 8 sable point, ___1 Large, ___1 Med., ___1 Small short hair flat bristle scrubbers ___Large Water Mister, ___Small color mister bottles, (optional), ___paper towels or white cotten terrry cloth rags, ___box of tissues, ___Water bucket, ___ Masking Tape, ___ Board for painting Support, ____watercolor paper or watercolor block or watercolor canvas, ___knife or razor blade, ___Plastic Card for scraping tool, (credit cards work well).
I always recommend to my students, bring a sketch pad where ever you go, this is true even when I go plein air painting, at least bring a small sketchbook for thumbnail drawings
___Sketch Pad, ___Pencils, ___Graphite Wash Pencil(s), ____ Wash Brush or water brush ___ erasers- __hard and __kneadable, ___sharpening tool, (knife or razor blade)
Open awareness with a sense of awe and adventure
• Breath! – Have Fun and Relax
Join me for another tranquil day in the country at my studio and the surrounding region of rural Ashfield, MA, as I share with you my favorite painting spots, (we most likely will be painting at the lake), and over 35 years of painting and teaching experience in a relaxed and informative way. Artists with little or no experience to the professional will benefit from this workshop. Demos will be in graphite, watercolor, acrylic and alkyd/oil. Group discussions and lots of individual attention.
“Drawing and Painting the Landscape –

Focus on seeing and mixing values and color”
Sunday, July 27th from 10am to 5pm
Masla Studios North in bucolic New England 

-No Materials – No Problem
Special introductory price: $125. – includes: instruction, some materials and a delicious picnic lunch!
Space is limited to 8, call now to reserve yours:
(413) 625-8382. Actually, email me, as I mentioned earlier I will be traveling for a few weeks:

Masla, First Day of Summer, (afternoon behind the house), oil on canvas mounted on board, plein air

To see more images of my paintings available for purchase, click below to go to: 

132 Main Street, Northampton, MA. 01060 
(413) 586-3964
also visit

130 West Broadway, Jackson, Wyoming, 83001, 307-201-1172 or 307-413-8834