Plein Air vs Studio Paintings

Most of you know I paint frequently en plein air, that is outdoors on location. All great landscape painters paint from life, at least occasionally, because you just can’t get true results by just using photos. Photographs skew the values, that is the relative darkness or lightness of a color, making shadows too dark and sunlit areas frequently too light. They can also modify the color to varying degrees. Most good artists can tell when a painting is done strictly from photographs.

I don’t often translate or re-paint a studio work directly from a plein air work, but on occasion do just that. Below are a few examples.


The first is of an inlet in Lake Tahoe, on the NE part of the lake close to Incline Village, Nevada.


The scene I was painting
The scene I was painting

Here is the plein air piece–

"Tahoe Inlet", 9x12, oil on board
“Tahoe Inlet”, 9×12, oil on board


and the work done in the studio–

"Tahoe Inlet", 24x30, oil on canvas
“Tahoe Inlet”, 24×30, oil on canvas


I later used the studio piece for the cover of my book “Plein Tahoe”, which you can purchase here.


The second example is of Santorini, Greece. As the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, the Greek island of Santorini is one of the most spectacular in the world. Many scholars believe the eruption spawned the legend of Atlantis. Fira and other towns cling to the cliff overlooking the sea-drowned caldera left behind.

I visited there on a cruise in 2006, and did several studies overlooking Fira and the multicolored cliffs soaring a thousand feet above the caldera. What a spectacular view and setting!

Below are pictures of the scene, my small plein air study in acrylic, and a large studio painting in oil I did later. I made very few changes from the original study to the studio piece…it wasn’t necessary to improve on the scene!


Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece

“Santorini”, 8×10, acrylic on board, plein air

“Santorini”, 28×22 , oil on canvas, studio

If you are a landscape artist, be sure to actually visit and paint the landscape in real time!