Salt in the Air,(San Pancho)8x72dpi
Robert Masla, Salt in the Air, (plein air San Pancho), Cobra oil on 8" x 16" Fredrix all media canvas paint board.

This is an edit and update of June 27, 2014 post “Introduction to Plein Air Painting Practice”. I have since added 2 more P’s to my 3 P’s of success, (thanks to wisdom gleaned from my wife and daughter Narieka). None of these topics below are “rules”, simply suggestions to perhaps simplify the process and help target certain results, take what works for you. It all, (choices and process) is always dependent on your intention.

Preparation: The wise man said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step – so be prepared for the trip, create a check list and have it in front of you to avoid frustration for a day out painting in the field. Many times in a rush, (and I know I am not alone in this, I hear the stories frome seasoned professional friends), we run out the studio door to paint, arrive on location and find we left our brushes or solvent jar, or paper towels or needed bug spray… etc. in the studio, (see the earlier CasaBlog post mentioned above for detailed suggestions, scroll down the article to Plein Air Painting Day, Preparation Check List, use what applies and  – ignore the prices – it’s 5 years old!). When going out to paint don’t expect masterpieces, paint to explore, learn and have fun! There are no mistakes – only opportunities for learning and growth!

Practice: Anyone that can hold a pencil or brush in one of their limbs can learn to draw or paint. Like most skills it only takes what I have always told my kids are the 3 -now- 5 P’s; the first 3, Patience, Practice and Persistence. With these you can accomplish almost any goal and master any craft. As I often say to students who ask, “Don’t you think I am to old to start painting”, it is never to late to begin, Van Gogh only painted for 7 -8 years of his life. And there are many more examples. 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 everyone to always carry a sketchbook and continually do little thumb nail 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 to 5 minutes a day, not much, when your waiting at the dentist, or talking on the phone, sitting on the porch….

Graphite Wash Pencils: carry one with you, a sketchbook and a waterbrush – all you need for tonal painting studies. Do thumbnails and tonal studies, often. Some of these can later turn into paintings in the studio.

In the Rice Field, Ubud, Bali), graphite wash on paper, 5x7
Robert Masla, Rice Fields in Ubud, Bali, Graphite wash in sketchbook

Rules: -There are no rules, (exception is in the science aspect, i.e. fat over lean in oil paint) – there are only formulas for effects & principles that can often lead to somewhat predictable results.  Apply what works. The craft and skill can be learned thru the 3 P’s -what makes it Art is the Forth P, your Passion, which is fueled by your vision and individual creative expression/interpretation.

Process: We are not trying to produce masterpieces or create “photographs”, (unless that is your intention), we are learning to be, (and paint while we are “being”). Enjoy the process, being in nature, senses alive -What a Gift! The 5th P, which allows everything to happen – Give YourSelf Permission!

Intention and then Focal Point: This is the essence of all painting and critique – ask yourself what is your intention and goal of this particular in your art and in this painting? What attracted you to the subject, the light, the edges, the composition, the subject matter, the colors, the mood? Try to define it and then try and breath it into the painting. When you know intention, everything else follows, choice of media, composition, technique, color, focal point, etc.

Hint of Autumn 6 x 72dpi
Robert Masla, Hint of Fall, (plein air in Apple Valley, 3, 3 hour sessions) Cobra oil on Fredrix canvas.

Brushes: Start by trying to hold it far back from the ferrel, with a full but light grip, giving you some distance from the canvas, not like writing, where your hand is possibly even resting on the canvas. This immediately gives you more range of motion and room for expression, (takes some practice, as we are used to writing). We feel a little less control at first, perhaps a good thing, – less likely to jump into the details right away. Hold it at different positions and different angles to create different marks and effects. And if you can stand while you paint – even better.

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

Step Back: Often, (another reason to stand) – To see the whole composition, see how the different shapes in your composition work together – and also stretch your legs, neck and back, (this is harder to remember than one thinks – we get lost in the flow of painting)! Turn the painting upside down, take a photo with your phone, see it fresh, is the composition working? the values? color temperature? etc.

Balance in Warm and Cool Greys
Robert Masla, Balance in Warm and Cool Greys, value study demo at Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Rembrandt watercolor on 1/2 sheet Fabriano Artistico cold press paper.

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”. Look for the large “value shapes” in your composition. – Color, line, edges, are more often expressive emotional tools, (but not always, as there are no rules, i.e. think atmosphere and color temperature). Do value studies and tonal paintings

Morning Walk 72dpiRobert Masla, Morning Walk, (Plein Air on Apple Valley), using a variation of an imprimatura technique with Rembrandt oils on 8" x 16" Fredrix all media paint board

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 charcoal or chalk 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 under painting, 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 Ala Prima”. It affords the student to thoroughly explore the composition, drawing of the subject, learn measuring, correction of proportions, turning of form through values, as well as understanding progressive layering of colors, etc. without the burden of concern with the complexity of color. 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 and 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. It is semi transparent and allows light to bounce, creating a “glow”. Typically artists 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 the pot used for cleaning brushes with solvent or oil – the “mud”. Though the 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 paint, impastos & froties are layered on top.  Later this developed to some 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), Monet sometimes stained his canvas yellow so the violets would vibrate. 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, either in the field or the studio. Many of these painting techniques that 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.

• Breath! – Have Fun and Relax – Permission!: -Most important things

Happy Painting!