How do you capture that combination of light, aroma, temperature, and freshness of an early morning walk? Mark Fehlman shares his insights on painting landscapes in this guest blog post.

Painting Landscapes: Why I Start in the Field


When I was a young boy, we lived on an orange grove in the San Fernando Valley. When the navel orange buds started to bloom, there was always a special aroma in the air. Eventually, the oranges would start to appear and grow into the most delicious fruit I will ever taste.

We all know there is something about fresh-picked fruit that is like no other. On Sunday mornings my wife and I go to the Farmers’ Markets in search of this taste of freshness, but we usually come up short. Every once in a while, when we are out exploring, we run across a grove full of ripe oranges. My larcenous instincts take over and I have to pick a few.

As an artist, I pursue that unique flavor of field freshness. That’s what the Impressionists sought with their groundbreaking approach by painting “on the spot” or en plein air. How do you capture that combination of light, aroma, temperature, and freshness of an early morning walk? You can’t take a photo of it, because it won’t capture the multiplicity of information that your senses provide you with by being there. Probably, that fresh taste of a navel orange is only enhanced by being in the grove on a beautiful warm day. With my studio painting, I want to put you “in that grove.”

My studio work is based on plein air studies—lots of studies, and sketches, and writing and memory . . . and finally photos. I want to have that freshness and emotion of the moment of that morning walk.

Painting en plein air
Mark Fehlman, “Our Water Taxi,” 9 x 12 in.

Painting Landscapes on Location

Last year, I took a three-day painting trip to Catalina Island. It is an hour off the coast of Southern California, and yet feels like it could be in Europe. Three days to just sketch, develop ideas and take visual notes. I was first struck by the splash of color everywhere. The gaiety of the colors of a resort mixed with the colors of a harbor always intrigues me. Italian fishing villages can be like this.

Painting landscapes en plein air
Mark Fehlman, “Early Morning in Avalon,” 12 x 16 in.

Starting with lots of pencil sketches, I walk around and observe. I am not looking for the Chamber of Commerce postcard image, but rather a glimpse that puts the viewer into the activity, allowing you to feel the warmth of the hot day. Or one that communicates the relaxation of sitting on the beach.

After many sketches, I set up my easel and develop 45-minute painted sketches to record color and ideas. These are painted for me and are not for sale. They are my “cliff notes” or my touchstone that “return me to the scene of the crime” when I am back in the studio. I also take a lot, and I mean a LOT of photos to record information.

Painting landscapes en plein air
Mark Fehlman, “Shark Cove,” 9 x 12 in.

It would be much easier to just take photos and head back to the studio, but it takes time for a place to speak to you. Many times, you have to discover a unique view by walking further than is comfortable. I check out Google Earth to see how to get to a hidden spot. You have to daringly go through a gate on a pier, or go down a path to find an interesting view. I have painted hanging off the side of a cliff, or at the edge of crashing waves.

That’s how I capture that unique mix of freshness and immediacy in studio painting. As a collector, the more you know about an artist’s process and personality, the more you will understand their work.

Mark Fehlman artist
Mark Fehlman

I love to paint from the life that surrounds me. I paint in an impressionistic style, marked by energetic brushwork, and use thick and thin layers of paint, patterns of light and dark, and a rich palette of colors to capture the moment.

For 30 years, I practiced as a successful architect; half of those years were as a design partner with Fehlman LaBarre Architects. Thanks to my business partner, Mike LaBarre, I was able to leave architecture and pursue my passion, in a second career, as a fine artist.

My artistic career started in my youth, as a well-known fiber artist. Throughout high school and into college, I had successful shows in Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Then architecture took over.

When I began to pursue painting, I sought out the best teachers. Each has been a tremendous inspiration to me. They include Lela Harty, John Asaro, Ray Roberts, Brian Blood, Ron Hicks, Mark Daley, Kim English, and Jeff Watts. I have been painting for about 15 years, and have made it my career for over 10 years.

I paint full time in my studio at my home in the Mission Hills District of San Diego, and travel extensively to capture images throughout the world.

Website: Mark Fehlman is represented by Huse Skelly Gallery on Balboa Island and The Mission Gallery in St. George, Utah. His workshop on painting landscapes, “Design Strategies for Powerful Paintings” is available through Streamline Premium Art Video; preview it here:

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