Plein Air Essentials - Learn Basics of Plein Air Painting

Learn the essentials of plein air painting in a series of short video lessons.
9 reviews
  • One of the country's top plein air painters, Michael works in oil and pastel in the American Southwest, coastal Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. He has been an invited artist to many national plein air painting events over the years and has competed in challenging locations such as the Grand Canyon.

    Elected a Master Pastellist by Pastel Artists Canada in 2008, he is a Signature Member of the American Impressionist Society and the Pastel Society of America as well as a juried member of Oil Painters of America. He is the author of Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel and Through a Painter's Brush: The American Southwest. A long-time contributor to The Pastel Journal and Contributing Editor for The Artist's Magazine, he lives, paints and teaches on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, and in Sedona, Arizona. Michael also specializes in teaching small-size plein air workshops in oil and pastel for the intermediate and advanced level painter and for painters desiring mentoring.

  • Lifetime access to 13 lectures and 1 quizzes
  • A community of 200+ students learning together!

Plein Air Essentials - Learn Basics of Plein Air Painting

Learn the essentials of plein air painting in a series of short video lessons.
9 reviews


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New to Plein Air Painting?

Or just looking to take your plein air painting to the next level? Whether you paint in oil, pastel, acrylic, watercolor or some other medium, you'll find help in these videos, authored by artist Michael Chesley Johnson.You'll also find plein air painting workshops and plein air painting instruction.

Looking for a workshop?

Michael teaches two programs. is on Campobello Island, in the Canadian Maritimes, just across the border from Lubec in Downeast is in Sedona, Arizona. Both are great places for a plein air painting experience. Michael specializes in small-size workshops, typically no more than 4 students at a time. He also teaches elsewhere in the US and Canada. For full details, visit the workshop page at

    • You'll need a stable and portable field easel
    • You'll also need painting materials (paint, brushes, canvas, etc.)
    • You may find it helpful to have a ViewCatcher (see supply list)
    • Over 13 lectures and 1 hour of content!
    • By the end of this course, you will be able head out into the field with the confidence that you need to complete a plein air painting
    • You'll learn what kind equipment to use in the field
    • You'll learn what materials you'll need for plein air painting
    • You'll learn how to choose a subject and compose the scene
    • You'll learn how to analyze the scene in 4 values
    • You'll learn how to do a quick block-in to capture light and shadow
    • You'll learn how to move beyond the block-in stage to create a finished painting
    • All levels of painter, from beginner to professional
    • Oil and pastel painters (although the approach can be applied to acrylic and other media as well)


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  • SECTION 1:
  • 1

    Introduction video to the Plein Air Essentials course.

  • 2
    15 slides

    You'll want to read this brief manual before watching the video lectures.  In it, I give you leads on where to get equipment and to find information; what supplies and materials I use; and my basic process for painting in oil or pastel.

  • SECTION 2:
  • 3

    (5 minutes)  In this video, I cover the different types of equipment and easels you might use.  I even show you how to set up a French easel!

  • SECTION 3:
    Getting Started
  • 4
    Picking a Subject

    (6 1/2 minutes)  In this video, I show you the best way to pick a subject suitable for a plein air painting.

  • 5
    Composing in the Field

    (7 minutes)  In this video, I show you my approach for making compositional studies quickly and painlessly in the field.

  • 6
    Value Basics

    (3 minutes)  In this video, I show you how to analyze value in the landscape and how to simplify your scene.

  • 7
    Creating Distance

    (6 1/2 minutes) In this video, I demonstrate how to create the illusion of distance in a painting through use of atmospheric perspective.

  • 8
    The Importance of Drawing
    Drawing is one of the most basic and essential skills for the outdoor painter.  In this video, I'll tell you why!
  • SECTION 4:
    Two Short Demonstrations
  • 9
    Oil Demonstration: "Snowfield Sentinel"
    This is a second short video of an oil demonstration showing how to paint trees and snow, showing some of the uses of texture and mark-making with oil.
  • 10
    Oil Demonstration: "Two Sisters"
    This is a short video of an oil demonstration showing how to paint trees.
  • SECTION 5:
  • 11
    In Conclusion
  • 12
    Test Yourself!
    6 questions
  • SECTION 6:
    Are You Ready? Take a Workshop with Me!
  • 13
    Plein Air Workshops on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada - Trailer
    Join Michael Chesley Johnson for small-size outdoor plein air painting workshops on beautiful Campobello Island July-mid-September 2013.  For details, visit .
  • 14
    Plein Air Workshops in Sedona, Arizona
    Join Michael Chesley Johnson for small-size outdoor plein air painting workshops in the beautiful "Red Rock Country" of Sedona, Arizona, November-mid-April.  For details, visit


Hours of video content
Course Enrollments


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  • Leon Iwan
    I recommend Basics of Plein Air Painting.

    Just a good all around Basic approach to Plein Air painting.

  • Dan Papp
    Where to begin?

    Excellent introduction to a beginning outdoor painter, especially the concept of small sketches with relative values to transfer to the canvas. Also, start with thin washes of paint to begin blocking in. Looking forward to painting in Sedona. Thank you, Dan W. Papp Nyssa, Oregon

  • Humberto Ramirez
    Great introduction!

    Simple and to the point with a great lecture on picking a subject.


    Section 3 was the most helpful to me. I have problems with picking subjects and compositions.

  • Frederick Fielding

    this course was good for me because i have never painted in oil , or en plein air,and would like to try

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