Painting En Plein Air-Why Your Plein Air Landscape Paintings Look Flat

terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

Written ByTerry Ouimet

Plein Air Oil Painter, specializing in mountain landscapes

Blog | Uncategorized

August 24, 2021


Hey there PAINTERS!

As a beginner plein air landscape painter, do your oil paintings look flat?

Do they lack depth and that three-dimensional look that so many of the more “accomplished” painters seem to nail on a consistent basis?

The good news; Most beginner plein air painters struggle with creating depth in their paintings so you are not alone. In fact, many seasoned plein air landscape painters struggle with achieving depth and interest in their paintings.

Cut yourself some slack, it’s all a part of the journey.

The not-so-good news; It takes time and practice to develop this skill. There are a number of techniques that you can implement to solve the problem, but it may take patience and experimentation.


terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

​30 x 40″  Oil on canvas, Terry Ouimet

Here are a couple of tips that may help you with these roadblocks so you can make some beautiful paintings:

Tip #1    Your P’s Might Be Off

I’m talking about pieces, placement, proportion and perspective. In the drawing stage of your paintings, it might be helpful to think about all three of these before you get any color on the canvas.

Ask yourself, what are the 3-5 larger pieces of my landscape composition, and what are my pieces of light and shadow? (If the sun is out)

Draw them in with your brush accurately as large geometric pieces. Not mountains, trees, or rivers, just pieces.

Next make sure that you have correct placement of the major pieces or shapes in your scene. Every object or piece has a perimeter or boundary where it belongs and you should demonstrate proper perspective to show that the tree is in front of the barn for example.

Then, if your proportions are off, your painting will be off. No amount of flashy brushwork or colors can fix a poorly executed drawing. Compare shape sizes and the angles of those shapes to dial in proper proportions. An object in the midground or backround for example should not be drawn or painted larger than objects in the foreground.

terry ouimet plein air painting RIDGWAY CO

16 x 20″ Terry Ouimet

Finally, you should try to show perspective in every plein air landscape painting if possible. Both atmospheric perspective and linear perspective. I’m referring to linear perspective for this article so be sure to have proper orthogonal (parallel) lines and and show your viewer where the horizon line is as well as the vanishing point. There is only one horizon line, but there can be multiple vanishing points depending on what you are painting.

See this video on perspective that I painted in the mountains of Colorado. Ireally think it explains all things perspective releated to plein air landscape painting.

Best Tips On Oil Painting Perspective

terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

In summary of this point,

The best paintings have 3-5 easily identifiable and differing values in large pieces or shapes. This is partly why I teach “Pieces” as one of the “4 P’s of The Drawing Stage of Painting.” Here is a link to that free video:

How To Start A Painting Right


Tip #2   Your Values Are Off

Every great painting has structural values. This means the painting has 3-5 easily identifiable and differing values from light to dark. For me, I always strive to have these values in my painting; light, midtone, dark and black. Four different values.

Compare and observe the pieces in your scene. Squint your eyes to eliminate the many details of your scene and see the 3-5 larger pieces of your painting. However, once you squint it will change your values so don’t try to dial in your values by squinting. Open your eyes fully and observe, compare, mix and then execute.

In my YouTube videos I often talk about “atmospheric curtains.” Mix your values and colors for 3 imaginary veils or atmospheric curtains from sky to ground- one in the foreground, middleground and background. I imagine them as clear glass curtains coming down from the sky.

But really they are not so imaginary. It’s proven science that there are particles  in the air and light between you and the objects in front of you. The French Impressionists were famous for demonstrating this is their plein air paintings.

claude monet

 Claude Monet

In the foreground you should paint your darkest darks, coolest cools and warmest warms. The middleground is for midtones. That just means middle values and tones-not too dark and not too light. The background is for your “airy cooler mixtures and lightest values.

Look at your paintings and objectively discern if you are properly seeing and mixing the correct values and colors for each of the atmospheric curtains or veils.

This video below may help explain this point further.

Here is a link to my YouTube video on Color Mixing:



I hope these tips will help you create more beautiful landscape oil paintings.

If you would like to watch my YouTube video showing footage of one on one teaching and having fun plein air painting in the gorgeous mountains of Colorado, click here below.

Beginner Plein Air Painting Workshop | Biggest Struggles

Learning Plein air YouTube Channel

Consider subscribing to the channel if you want to join our rapidly growing community of beginner plein air oil painters, we would love to have you!


I’ll see you up in the mountains.

Terry Ouimet


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