Carrie Curran is a professional artist living in Scottsdale, Arizona merging her passions for art, teaching, and business. At the 9th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), she led the Basics Course with exercises that focused on the principal foundations of the painting process. Here’s an exclusive look at Carrie’s “Basics of Plein Air Painting” tips.

Artists get hands-on practice during the Basics Course at PACE
Artists get hands-on practice during the Basics Course at PACE

Basics of Plein Air Painting

By Carrie Curran

Before Painting:

  • Must have sturdy, portable equipment and essential supplies
  • Find subjects that interest you and places you can easily return to for further study
  • Observe the sky and light source, a vital element in all outdoor painting
  • See relationships – value, color, masses, light and shadow patterns
  • Sketch thumbnails to determine best composition

Sketching Your Scene:

  • Draw small frames / format boxes to sketch thumbnails
  • Consider the proportions / format of the canvas you will be using
  • Outline the major shapes, and eliminate detail
  • Draw quickly and make a note about what inspired you
  • Shade in your value masses using a value scale of 3 to 5 values
  • Refer to Edgar Payne’s book, Composition of Outdoor Painting, for ideas and inspiration for successfully designed compositions
"Dunes Shoreline" by Carrie Curran
“Dunes Shoreline” by Carrie Curran

Steps for Success:

  • Have gear and supplies ready at a moment’s notice
  • Choose a subject using a viewfinder (and your feelings)
  • Squint and observe the scene for value masses, shapes, proportion, perspective, color, light and shadows
  • Quickly draw thumbnail(s); designing a composition with a value structure, designed to keep the viewer’s eye
  • Use your sketch as a guide to draw an outline of the value masses on the canvas and paint the average color and value of those shapes first
  • Use the drawing as a reference while you closely continue to observe your subject
  • When introducing color, use a limited palette and make sure your colors stay consistent with the value plan

Connect with Carrie Curran at

Bonus Inspiration: A PleinAir Salon Spotlight

Aleksander Kryushyn, best plein air landscape, PleinAir Salon May 2022
Aleksandr Kryushyn, best plein air landscape, PleinAir Salon May 2022

From Ukranian Artist Aleksandr Kryushyn’s Instagram (@kryushynart):

☀️ I am very happy to share the great news that my painting “Lost World” has been awarded as “Best Plein Air Landscape” in a Plein Air Salon Art Competition from PleinAir Magazine
Thanks everyone!
Congratulations for all the awardees! 🎉🎨🎉
☀️ Я дуже рад поділитися прекрасною новиною про те, що моя картина «Загублений світ» була удостоєна нагороди «Кращий пленерний пейзаж» на конкурсі Plein Air Salon Art Competition from PleinAir Magazine від журналу PleinAir
Спасибо всем!
Вітаю всіх нагородженних ! 🎉🎨🎉

Enter your best work in the PleinAir Salon here ~ hurry, the next round closes soon!

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