Books for the Plein Air Artist

Successful plein air painting involves everything from knowing what equipment to bring to understanding your medium. Award-winning landscape painter Michael Chesley Johnson helped the editors of The Artist’s Magazine create this list of too-good-to-miss resources:

Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson (Friar’s Bay Studio Gallery, 2008): Advice on equipment and techniques plus 12 demos in pastel and oil make this book an thorough resource.

Brushwork Essentials by Mark Christopher Weber (North Light Books, 2002) This book shows you how to render a variety of strokes essential for effective oil painting.

Brushwork for the Oil Painter by Emile Gruppe (Watson-Guptill, 1983): Full of oil brushwork technique tips, this out-of-print book is worth tracking down.

Carlson’s Guide to Outdoor Painting by John F. Carlson (Dover, 1973): This is a time-tested resource for plein air painters is especially strong in advice concerning the different aspects of design.

Guide to Outdoor Composition by Edgar Payne (DeRu’s Fine Arts, 2005):  Among other things, this book contains a catalog of good designs.

The Painterly Approach: An Artist’s Guide to Seeing, Painting and Expressing (North Light Books, 2008) In addition to instruction on design and oil-painting techniques, this book explains how to capture on canvas the mood evoked or emotion felt when viewing an actual landscape.

Problem Solving for the Oil Painter by Gregg Kreutz (Watson-Guptill, 1997): Turn to this book for help in analyzing your painting strengths and weaknesses (and learning how to make improvements). Much of what Kreutz says can be applied to any medium.

The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes by Gordon Mackenzie (North Light Books, 2006) Learn the foundations of strong composition and use them to pursue your individual style in creating landscapes.

This book list is a companion piece to Michael Chesley Johnson’s article “Plein Air With a Purpose” in the November 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, available at


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