Getting Started with Plein Air

Artist Justin Vining walks you through the basics of getting started with Plein Air painting


Justin Vining is an Indianapolis-based artist, specializing and landscapes and cityscapes. Justin studied Art Education at Purdue University and taught elementary art for three years. Following his tenure as a teacher, Justin attended Valparaiso Law school, where he rekindled his love for creating between classes and clerking. Shortly after graduating and passing the bar in 2010, Justin decided to pursue art full time and hasn’t looked back since. See his work here.



Justin Palette for Blocks Park.jpg
  • Less is More – Design a simple/lean setup. This will enable you to go to farther, cooler places and make it easier to just get out and go on a whim!

  • Start out with a Limited/Split Primary Palette – A warm & cool red, yellow, blue, titanium white, and perhaps a burnt umber or burnt sienna. You don’t need to carry a black- true black is rarely found in nature.

  • Brushes – I prefer hog bristle long filberts & long flats. Start out your painting with a big brush and save your small brushes for the very end.

  • Painting Surface – I like using panels outside as they are more compact, and durable with no risk of puncture. Carrying a canvas through tricky outdoor terrain can become risky.


Painting Process

sample process image with text.jpg
  • Start Thin (Grisaille Layer) – Your first layer is almost like not painting at all- scrub in a “dirty” dry value that begins to describe the composition and form.

  • Think in the Most Basic Shapes – Squint really hard at almost any scene and you can quickly break it down into 2 or 3 big shapes of value. Use these shapes to start your painting.

  • Mixing Colors – I will generally premix 3-5 of my major colors and then start mixing the variations off those main ones. Put some color on the end of your palette knife and hold it up to what you are trying to match it to. Squint real hard to check value and color accuracy.


General Preparedness

  • Water/small snack

  • Headlamp (hiking out in dark)

  • Summer – bug spray, suntan lotion

  • Spring/Fall – waterproof boots/poncho

  • Nocturne – 2 piano lights in case natural street lamp light is not an option

  • Winter – ultra warm gloves & boots are the key here, its easy to keep the core warm, its a lot harder to keep your feet and hands dry and warm


Justin’s Plein Air Rembrandt Oils Palette

  • 411 Burnt Sienna

  • 409 Burnt Umber

  • 406 Ultramarine Deep

  • 534 Cerulean

  • 342 Brown Madder Deep

  • 377 Perm Red Medium

  • 227 Yellow Ochre

  • 208 Cad Yellow Light

  • 118 Titanium White