Free Landscape Painting Demo: Establishing Value and Design at the Start

In this landscape painting demo, Jim Wodark walks you through how to paint a beautiful landscape, starting with a thumbnail sketch. The following is Part II of his Plein Air Magazine article, Design Makes All the Difference.

The star of a new video, “Composition for Painters,” Wodark has dedicated himself to painting for the past 30 years and counting.

Free Painting Demo: Establishing Value and Design at the Start, with Jim Wodark


Painting landscapes outdoors

Step 1
Wodark begins by working out a rough thumbnail sketch:

Thumbnail sketch
Thumbnail sketch


Step 2
Using a rag or paper towel, he applies a thin mixture of cadmium yellow medium, quinacridone red, and ultramarine blue in roughly a middle value color to the panel. Because the landscape has a lot of green, he uses a complementary reddish-brown (sepia) for the imprimatura:

Applying color to the panel
Applying color to the panel


Step 3
Adding mineral spirits to the rag, Wodark lifts out the lighter values of the design. “This way, I get a rough design and value study all within five minutes and I can better tell if it’s going to work as a painting,” he says.

Lifting the lighter values
Lifting the lighter values


Step 4
Using a brush and the sepia tone, the artist then lays in the darks and paints in the shapes more accurately, adding a horse and rider along with some cows to the scene:

Adding shapes to a painting composition
Adding shapes


Step 5
He continues to establish the value structure of the design by painting his darkest darks and lightest lights first:

Value structure in a landscape painting
Value structure


Step 6
Wodark focuses attention on his main subjects by graying the greens throughout the painting — except for those near the cows — and by intensifying the value contrast between the horse and the background. He explains, “I created these contrasts to attract your eye to the rider and then to lead it along the path to the cows, whose reddish color is complemented by the higher-chroma green of the grasses.”

Creating contrasts - plein air painting demo
Creating contrasts


Final Step
The artist refines shapes, edges, values, and color temperatures, then adds brush-strokes of impasto to complete the painting:

Jim Wodark, "Spring Trail," 2019, oil, 6 x 12 in. Collection the artist Plein air
Jim Wodark, “Spring Trail,” 2019, oil, 6 x 12 in. Collection the artist Plein air


Easels: Joshua Been Daytripper Easel for smaller paintings, a Take It Easel for larger plein air pieces, and a BEST easel in the studio

Palette: Gamblin oil colors — flake white replacement, titanium white, manganese blue, ultramarine blue, quinacridone red, cadmium red light, Indian yellow, and cadmium yellow medium. He uses the lead-free flake white replacement in conjunction with titanium white, explaining, “It doesn’t change the value of the color you’re mixing as much as titanium does. So when I’m making a large pile of a certain color, I will add more flake white to it than titanium.”

Medium: Gamsol for paint thinning and cleanup Brushes: Rosemary & Co flat brushes in sizes 4, 6, and 8 and also a rigger brush for fine lines Surface: Raymar #15 single oil-primed linen panels Varnish: Gamvar

Sketching pen: Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen, black #199, medium nib

How to Paint Landscapes

Preview “Composition for Painters” (a five-hour workshop) with Jim Wodark here:

Learn More


  1. This is a lesson on when to stop. Step number 6 is great, it sings. The final is a tire that’s gone flat. In my humble opinion.


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