Step 1: One of the locations Boehmer painted for this demonstration

Virginia artist Ron Boehmer builds layers of saturated oil colors to achieve luminosity in both his plein air and studio paintings. He offers a demonstration of his “color interaction” painting techniques here and in the March 2013 issue of PleinAir.

Step 2: With two 11” x 14” toned panels held inside Boehmer’s travel case, he lays out a palette of colors.

As Ron Boehmer developed as a painter, he studied the work of other artists who handled brush marks and color application in ways that appealed to him. For example, he was intrigued by the way Paul Cézanne bridged the divide between a three-dimensional subject and a two-dimensional painting surface. Boehmer’s observation was that Cézanne placed paint strokes on the canvas in a way that helped the viewer step into pictorial space and sense the reality of that environment. “I was intent on painting representational landscapes, but I wanted to respect the idea that painting is a process of abstraction,” he explains. “Paintings have a physical presence at the same time they may suggest an illusion of three-dimensional objects in space.”

Step 3: A few of the thumbnail sketches the artist did of the barn

In terms of the act of painting, Boehmer felt he had been “stumbling” with the traditional tonal painting process he was taught, and he looked to the work of artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Josef Albers, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Poons for guidance in how the dynamics of color interaction might be used to create a sense of light in the landscape that might be more profound and natural than he could achieve in a value-based painting.

In explaining how his palette of colors now allows him to develop paintings, Boehmer draws an analogy to coaching a sports team through a game. “My first string includes the basic, dependable colors I send out onto the field every time, including titanium white, cadmium yellow lemon, yellow ochre, quinacridone red or magenta, raw umber, and two of four blues — Prussian, thalo, ultramarine, or cobalt —  and ivory black.” the artist explains “My backup players, or special team members, go onto the field only when needed. They include such colors as cadmium orange, cinnabar green, cadmium yellow medium, and dioxazine purple.”

Step 4: A photograph of Boehmer’s palette of colors, including (right to left) titanium white, cadmium yellow light, yellow ochre, cadmium red medium, quinacridone red, raw umber, Prussian blue, ultramarine blue, permanent green, ivory black, cadmium orange. The cups hold odorless mineral spirits (left side), Winsor & Newton distilled turpentine (right side), stand oil plus distilled turpentine (right side).

Before preparing his “team” of colors for a game, Boehmer does at least several thumbnail sketches of a potential painting subjects in order to evaluate possible compositional arrangements, shapes, and values, as well as the overall play of light. “It’s the most effective way I know to get an artist started on making a personal statement, so I strongly recommended that my students make preparatory sketches,” he says. “It’s like an athlete doing warm-ups before the start of the game, and it is an excellent way for the painter to break from a dependence on a viewfinder and to an ‘inventory-taking’ approach that the viewfinder encourages.”

The thumbnail sketches blend the visible landmarks with the real human experience as influenced by three-dimensional experience of space, and the variables of weather, light, time of day, season of the year, etc. Boehmer is especially interested in finding or inventing evocative shapes that will add more interest to the act of painting.

Step 5: The completed paintings after nearly four hours of painting. Left: “Barn Study Near Lowesville,” 2012, oil, 11 x 14 in. Collection the artist. Right: “Fenceline Study — Massie’s Farm,” 2012, oil, 11 x 14 in. Collection the artist.

One of the most unusual aspects of Boehmer’s creative process is that he occasionally paints two completely different landscapes on same-sized panels, held together in a homemade wet-canvas carrying box clipped to his easel. “The travel box resolves a lot of a practical, logistical problems when I want to carry and safeguard wet paintings, especially when I am far from my home studio,” he says. “It is great for backpacking with my easel and wet canvases. If the logistics of the painting trip and the inspiration of the subject matter suggest that it would be a good idea to develop two paintings, I mount the box on my easel so I can place two prepared panels inside. Occasionally I will work on two separate paintings simultaneously. At other times I develop one painting at a time. After completing one painting in the morning, I may do a second painting later in the same day.” For more information, visit


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