Painting en plein air at Rocky Mountain National Park
Painting en plein air at Rocky Mountain National Park

Plein air artist David Harms was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. He attended Colorado State University, and since he had been a long time professional musician and actor, it only seemed natural to try his hand at painting too. In 1996 he started oil painting, exploring and selling work covering an assortment of subject matter. When he did his first plein air landscape in 1999, he was hooked. He credits his development as a painter to the valuable time he has spent with Michael Lynch and also as a volunteer at several workshops given by the Plein Air Painters of America. (Harms tells us that John David Phillips and George Strickland also get extra-special consideration.)

In the following guest blog post, Harms takes us step by step through a landscape painting he created at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), inspired by “the drama of the oncoming storm obscuring the mountains beyond.”

Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park

High Wind Wednesday: Painting at Rocky Mountain National Park


Horseshoe Park, RMNP: Why am I wanting to paint this scene? My idea wasn’t to necessarily have a point of interest but I was taken with the drama of the oncoming storm obscuring the mountains beyond.

The first step (below) is to “kill the white” so thin washes of yellow ochre and ultramarine blue were used to divide what would become the only two plains: foreground and background.

Painting outdoors at Rocky Mountain National Park, Step 1
Painting outdoors at Rocky Mountain National Park, Step 1
Roughly blocking in the dark foreground shapes is then established.

Finding a preliminary darkest color for the background mountains (below); I use it not only for establishing the movement of these mountains but also to carve into the foreground shapes. I cut into the treeline to be fairly faithful to the scene but most importantly, the final design looked good.

Finding a preliminary darkest color for the background mountains

Pic 4 and 5- Now I started to work the area of the sky farthest away gradually moving forward and down the mountain. Creating the subtle depths of mountain snow as the storm clouds roll in was the most important element for me to capture. It is the “drama” I had to have! I wasn’t too thrilled with the literal shapes and design in the foreground brush and snow so I created patterns more appealing to me:

More refinement of the movement of the foreground snow plus accurately shaping and coloring the brush:

In the next image I’ve finished off the trees virtually last. I liked the mountain snow and the tree shapes so I finally applied thick paint to give the trees texture and weight:

The final step was to simply give a little more blue and other color to the distant mountain snow, add color variation to the bushes and make sure I didn’t overdo the foreground snow:

“High Wind Wednesday” by David Harms

My palette colors are almost verbatim to the list Michael J Lynch wrote out for me 20 years ago:

  • Permalba white
  • Cad Yellow Light
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cad Orange
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Viridian
  • Ultramarine Blue

David Harms: An Art Journey

My art journey has been very interesting. I’m currently a professional musician, actor, and oil painter and at age 60 I stay very active with sports/exercise and family. These elements are exactly the ones I had when I was 14. I guess I’ve always been an artist/performer of some kind. I was inclined to pick up oil painting more in the late 90’s and around that time I crossed paths with the exceptional landscape painter Michael J. Lynch.

It was as defining of a moment as you could imagine and set the stage for becoming a professional painter. His main point of emphasis was that to truly paint landscapes I simply must paint on location. Couple that episode with the chance affiliation with the Plein Air Painters of America and I painted my first plein air picture in May of 1999. These two instances have great stories attached which I’ll give in detail someday.

Being fortunate enough to hang around with the best of outdoor painting was crucial to getting the proper footing to being more effective and productive. Among many things, Mr. Lynch told me right off that to be any good – not great, just good – I needed to paint a thousand paintings first. I couldn’t wait to get going. You have to be enthused to be an outdoor painter – many things can get in the way (weather, bugs, onlookers, etc.). Embrace the beauty and know that no effort goes wasted. Each attempt painting anything leads to the next better painting, if the fundamentals are rock solid.

My style or technique has gotten more crystallized over the years, with an emphasis on narrowing the center of interest and executing each piece with authority and intention. That means knowing where and why to apply thicker strokes or simplifying areas or a myriad of other considerations. It all comes with experience and learning to see better. Another thing to mention, I was extremely fortunate to get frank criticism on my efforts from these extraordinary individuals and it was vital and encouraging to my development.

I’m always asked, “how long did it take for you to paint that…?” And my answer is always the same: “A thousand paintings plus two hours!”

Connect with David Harms at

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