Plein Air Oil Painting-How To “See” Colors En Plein Air

terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

Written ByTerry Ouimet

Plein Air Oil Painter, specializing in mountain landscapes


December 26, 2021


Hey there PAINTERS!

One of the top three struggles that beginner plein air painters have is dialing in and mixing the color spot that they see out in the landscape.

Here is some valuable information to help you better “SEE” colors  when you are out plein air landscape painting .


Tip #1  Never Look At Color Spots in Isolation


Your pathway to beautiful plein air landscape paintings is not to focus on making a masterpiece, but to compare color relationships in the landscape and put the right color in the right spot.

Here is my first tip on how to “see” colors in the landscape more accurately. Never try to stare into the middle of an object out in the landscape and paint that color in isolation without any regard to what colors surround it. Your eyes  will convince you that the shape can be any old color when you stare at a shape for 10 minutes trying to figure out what color it is.

terry ouimet teaching plein air painting

Instead, look at the outside edge, where that color spot meets the color piece next to it. Like where the top of the mountain meets the sky or where the side of barn meets the field for example. If you still struggle seeing the proper color and value, look away slightly and use your peripheral vision. Almost all the time this works for me, it finally makes senses out of the corner of my eye.

If that still does not work, move on to painting another color piece. Once you paint more color pieces accurately and get your painting filled in, its like a puzzle, the other pieces are easier to find. So go back to your troublesome color spot and you will almost certainly be able to see it quicker and more accurately with the other colors and values in your painting beside it.


Tip #2   Plein Air Painting Is A Comparison Game

A color out in the landscape or on your canvas only appears as such because of the color surrounding it. This is why you have to constantly scan the landscape and compare the color of the tree COMPARED TO the color of the barn. The color of the grass COMPARED to the color of the tree.

terry ouimet plein air painting telluride co

The best plein air painters are the best at COMPARING.

Learning to compare the the color of the pieces and shapes while you paint is one of the most important skills that a plein air painter possesses. Learning to “SEE” the landscape takes much practice, but you will certainly improve at it and it will help you make beautiful paintings.

I spent alot of time making this YouTube video on how to see and mix oil colors en plein air. Check it out after reading the article.


Terry Ouimet how to see and mix colors en plein air


I hope these tips on seeing colors and values will help you create more beautiful landscape paintings.

If you would like to watch my YouTube videos plein air painting in the gorgeous mountains of Colorado, click here below.

Learning Plein Air YouTube channel

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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