Janet Ledoux Fine Art

Paintings and Musings Blog

Janet Ledoux's Paintings & Musings Blog about the process of making paintings, reviews of shows and links to interesting resources.

Perceptual Painting: The Power Up Plein Air Series


April 1 is fast approaching and Spring is here, despite the cold and snow! I am getting ready to paint outside-soon, soon. I thought I’d start a series about painting plein air, as I know it. 

 Sand Beach Fog, oil in linen  painted plain air 2013

Sand Beach Fog, oil in linen  painted plain air 2013

First up, what paint do I use?

I highly recommend a limited palette. Using one does so many things for the plein air painter. It lightens the load so carrying your gear to a remote site becomes much easier. Your paintings automatically contain the harmony that comes from working with a small number pigments. Speed is of the essence when you're trying to capture light effects in a short period of time, so fewer colors can make the mixing process much faster. And as though that wasn’t enough, using just a few select colors teaches you how many color mixtures are possible even when working with just a few colors. You really learn how to mix color.

Okay, enough with the sales pitch! Here are my most often used colors for plein air painting.

Janet’s palette:

  • Titanium white
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cadmium yellow light
  • Cadmium yellow medium, or Hansa yellow
  • Cadmium red light
  • Alizarin Crimson

I buy those colors in the 150 mL tubes. The first thing I do after I set up my palette is mix a big batch of green with the ultramarine and the cad medium and/or light, and then mix an orange with the cad yellow medium and the cad red light. Two additional colors I often add to this limited group are viridian and cobalt blue, if I feel I may want more sea colors for instance.

It can be fun and useful to use a completely different group of colors sometimes. I have used just the Mars colors; or many artificial brights together: Pthalos and Quinacridones to name a couple of options. (Those sound like a menu item at a vegan restaurant “I’d like a plate of pthalo with a side of quinacridone , please....”) But when I am rushing out the door to paint outside, the limited group above is the tried and true workhorse.

 The Trail to Ragged, painted plein air in Stonington, ME

The Trail to Ragged, painted plein air in Stonington, ME

Below is a truly limited palette of 4 paints that many artists use to beautiful effect:

Wicked Limited Palette:

  • Ivory Black
  • Cad yellow medium or yellow ochre
  • Cad red medium
  • Titanium white

The black is the “blue”, you can mix your greens and violets with it. A shout out to Janet Manyan, my teacher at MECA, who taught a variant of the above limited color group in one of my first classes with her.

Here is an interesting color group from Stuart Shils:

  • Venetian red
  • Quinicidrone red
  • Raw sienna
  • Yellow ochre
  • Indian yellow
  • Hansa yellow
  • Viridian
  • Cobalt green
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cerulean blue
  • Ivory black
  • White

And more food for thought from Camile Przewodek:

Minimum basic palette (Windsor & Newton)

  • Titanium white
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Cad red light or Windsor Red
  • Cad yellow
  • Cad lemon yellow
  • Cerulean blue, Manganese Hue, or Sevres Blue - pick one of these greenish blues
  • French ultramarine blue

There are lots of great colors for outdoor paintings. What are yours? Leave me a comment, I am always looking for new ideas!


For an interesting discussion of how “Perceptual Painting” differs from “Plein Air Paintings” check this link out: http://paintingperceptions.com/art-politics/how-plein-air-painting-differs-from-perceptual-painting


Find Camile Przewodeks’ art here

Find a sample of Janet Manyans’  art here