Avoiding Muddy Colors in a Plein Air Painting

This oil painting of trees around a pond painted in a two-tone scheme with a yellow sky and purplish gray trees.

Duck Inlet (plein air). 8x10, oil on linen panel. 2017

Spring finally caught up with me today and I went outside for my first plein air event of the year. I painted with the Plein Air Painters of Washington at Washington Park Arboretum.

The weather was overcast, and we had some rain. As you can imagine, all the colors were grayed out and everything seemed dull.

I've been in this type of situation many times and I know from experience that paintings done at this time of year in this type of weather often look muddy. I deliberately tried to avoid that outcome by doing the following three things:

  1.  I painted the sky yellow. The actual sky was gray with a hint of warmer color at the horizon, but it was too dull and flat to be interesting.
  2. I kept the overall value high and omitted the darkest values.
  3. I didn't use any green or brown.

Of course, the final painting doesn't really look like the scene that was in front of me, except in that the arrangement of values is similar. But that was never my goal in the first place: I tried to place the visual appeal of the finished painting above everything else.


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