Simon Bland

A Blog About Oil Painting

Avoiding Muddy Colors in a Plein Air Painting

by Simon Bland / Apr 22, 2017 / Landscape Plein air Sketch

Plein air painting of Duck Inlet at the Washington Park Arboretum by artist Simon BlandDuck Inlet (plein air). 8x10, oil on linen panel. 2017

The spring finally caught up with me today and I got 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. It was actually 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's was never my goal in the first place: I tried to place the visual appeal of the finished painting above everything else.