Marc R. Hanson has thought a lot about how to paint a large studio painting based on a smaller plein air study — in fact, he teaches a class on the subject. So what’s his advice to painters working on pieces indoors while the weather is wintry?

“Right or Left,” by Marc Hanson. Studio piece informed by “Hot Spot”

There are technical issues to consider, but Hanson paraphrases past masters and says, “Every painting should have one idea.” For the Colorado artist, this becomes even more important to consider carefully because of the nature of plein air painting. “Overall, people are excited to be outside and painting — so they just start painting,” says Hanson. “But what? They don’t know. And pretty soon they are wandering around in their painting.” A study of an interesting tree may not make for a great studio piece. But a larger work that explores a wonderful light effect on that tree on that particular day may make a good painting in a larger format.

“Sand and Sun,” by Marc Hanson. Plein air

“The main thing I stress,” says Hanson, “is to have a good idea. You are going to spend a fair amount of time on this thing. You have to have a pretty good idea of what the painting is going to be doing and saying. I stress that although they may like something about a given subject so much that they want to make it a bigger painting, that’s not going to be enough. You have to have an idea.

“Why did you stop and want to paint that plein air painting? Was it the color, the gradation in the landscape, the flash of sunlight in dark woods? What is it about the trees that made you want to paint it? It could be a mood. If you have a concept, you can take a first step.”

“Waiting for the Glow,” by Marc Hanson. Studio piece informed by “Sand and Sun”

Hanson has his students write a phrase on the back of their painting panels before they start painting, describing what drew them to the scene. It helps keep them on track. This idea, which ideally is some artistic combination of the intellectual and the emotional, can guide and inspire an artist through a larger work. Hanson points out that Richard Schmid is a great example of a painter who makes all other things serve the idea of the painting.

“Sedona Sun,” by Marc Hanson. Plein air

So how big should one go, and how do you know? Hanson has his students make some compositional sketches and paint an 11″ x 14″ version of the plein air study before getting out a bigger canvas. “Then suddenly you know how big it can go,” he says. “Let the painting tell you how big to pursue it.”

“Sedona Sun,” by Marc Hanson. Studio piece

Artists following the plein air path need to be aware of where they are on their journey. “Sometimes people are still working on the technical skills, and in those cases it is easier to work smaller,” says Hanson. “Bigger paintings take more thought.”


  1. Light and all it’s glow is really the subject and remembering a place and time lends a glow that the immediate moment somehow lacks.


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