Please click on paintings to view larger.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Plein Air Workshop in Banff

Just finished teaching a 3 day plein air workshop here in the Banff/Canmore area. The first day was superb outdoor painting weather! Our first outing was in a meadow 5 minutes from my studio where we all had a crack at mountains and fall trees.

The gang! 12 keeners, some with quite a bit of experience and some trying plein air for the first time.

Robbie Hosegood in front of The Three Sisters

 After day one, the non-summer we have experienced this year returned with a vengence. On day two, we took this opportunity to work indoors. We spent some time on theory and then dedicated the day to building our skills painting from photos. I used exercises from Kevin MacPherson's book "Landscape Painting Inside and Out" (highly recommend it!) The 3 we did were:
  1. turn the photo upside down and paint it in flat, abstract patterns
  2. paint the photo in black, white and grey only
  3. THICK paint right out of the gate, increasing thickness as the painting develops
They were all great learning exercises, each one challenging us in different ways. It was the first time I had done them, so I got to learn too! Most importantly, they give you more tools in your kit for ways to move beyond merely copying a photo.

Day 3 was cold and rainy again, but a lot of the group was eager to get outdoors and do some more plein air work, so we went to the Banff Park Administration Buildings where they plant a gorgeous flower garden every year, and remarkably the flowers were still in bloom. I think everyone was pretty excited (and a little warmed) by the color, and lots of them used the fun nature of the subject matter to try the thick paint exercise we had worked on the day before.

Wendy Lockie undaunted by the weather

Hermann Brandt able to set his umbrella down in a drier moment

Holding an umbrella is not huge fun, if you want to do a lot of plein air I really recommend the BestBrella kit -  for keeping things dry in rainy/snowy weather, and for providing even light on your panel/palette and access to a wider variety of subject choices when the sun is out.

Jackie Ramsay with a really good start - we talked a lot about blocking in the large, abstract shapes, and she really got a handle on this here.

Helen Whyte setting up

After braving the elements in the morning, we headed back to the dry, warm studio for our last afternoon session and did another Kevin M. exercise, this one painting the whole piece high key, no value darker than 5. WAY harder than you might think, give it a try! Start by mixing your 5, placing it where your darkest darks are in your photo reference, and then don't go darker than that anywhere else on the painting.

*If you're not sure, a 5 value is is a tone that is halfway between white and black on a scale of 10. Now all you have to do is translate that in to color and keep everything else lighter :D

PS: This post on a plein air workshop seems woefully short of plein air tips, I guess because most of them were sprinkled throughout the 100 in 100 project, but I promise to do a brief review of the key tips next post.


  1. What a great place for a workshop. I'll have to get up there sometime to paint

  2. Thanks so much Mary, you're too sweet!

    Becky, come on up, I'll show you the highlights. :-)

  3. I was one of the participants of this plein air workshop, and highly recommend it. Not only will you learn a great deal, you will enjoy doing it. Liz crams a lot of information into the days, has a pleasant way of doing it, and also makes it easy to understand. She made us all very comfortable, and productive.

  4. Liz,

    What incredible scenery to paint - no matter the weather! No doubt everyone went home happy ;)


  5. Soooo jealous. The light on those aspens on the first day alone is worth the price!

  6. looks like a really great workshop and from the looks of everyone painting. A great time by all.

  7. Wow what a wonderful place to paint. I really enjoy your work.