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Plein Air Workshop


Paints & Palette:

The main paint manufacturer I use is Williamsburg Oils. I will also use Gamblin and Winsor & Newton on occasion. For my students, I recommend using Utretch, Gamblin 1980, or Winton, since those product lines are cheaper. 

  • Titanium White

  • Cadmium Lemon, Bismuth Yellow, or Hansa Yellow

  • Cadmium Yellow, or Cadmium Yellow Deep

  • Cadmium Red

  • ​Quinacridone Red or Alizarin Crimson​

  • Ultramarine Blue

  • Cobalt or Cerulean Blue

    As a note, I've included an extensive mixing demonstration down below, on how I mix with a warm and cool primary set of pigments.




  • Princeton Catalyst

  • Princeton Aspen Series

  • Grey Matters


Aaron Pickens Video Tutorials

I generated the following videos to support the lectures and demonstrations from my painting courses. During the pandemic, these videos were essential in conveying critical information when in-person contact was often limited. These videos are still used in my class as supplemental reference material, especially when students are unable to attend class. 

Getting Started - Painting Materials

Aaron Pickens
Getting Started - Painting Materials
Getting Started - Painting Materials
Play Video
Black & White Still Life
Play Video
Play Video
Color Mixing Demo
Play Video

Plein Air Tutorials

The following tutorials are from other painters that have shared their insight on YouTube. Here is a collection of some of the most helpful lessons that I share with my students. 

Paint Shapes, Not Things — Demonstration Video

Ian Roberts
Paint Shapes, Not Things —  Demonstration Video
Paint Shapes, Not Things —  Demonstration Video
Play Video
Plein Air Painting: Choosing A Scene
Play Video
10 EASY TIPS for You to get Better Paintings Quick | +Plein Air Demo
Play Video
Learn to PAINT, Start to Finish
Play Video

Plein Air Advice

The list down below is a small selection that I have gleaned from educators and various sources throughout the past ten years of studying this discipline. 

  • Including warm orange in an underpainting, balances all the cool greens and blues that tend to dominate the landscape. And the initial orange will ensure colors placed on top will be warmer as well.

  • When painting on location, I find a sketchbook indispensable. I can do a couple of quick thumbnail value studies (no larger than 2" x 3") and choose the strongest value pattern. Then when your scene moves and changes, you still have your value pattern to work from. If your design is strong, the painting is more likely to be strong!!!

  • Key off the sky. Always check two values compared to each other, and then compare the two to the sky.

  • Don't press yourself to always create a finished painting in the field. Approach plein air as information gathering and sketching... getting color notes and value plans. It can be more enjoyable and you'll have great reference materials for studio pieces.

  • Compress values. Keep the lights and the darks of a single object relatively close together.

  • Get used to reading weather reports, both for the clouds as well as the direction the wind is coming from. Colors will be warmer or cooler depending on where the wind is coming from.

  • Always make sure you have enough ambient light on your surface. You shouldn't be under a tree or up against a hedge where the working area is in the dark, nor should have direct sun on your canvas.

  • Working on-site encourages the artist to distill the most important elements from any subject. Unnecessary detail is almost automatically avoided in service to the overall composition of shape and value.

  • When trying to determine the color of the sky horizon, look straight up at the sky's zenith for a few seconds and then look immediately to the horizon.

  • Perhaps the most beautiful thing about working from life is that as long as you're careful and thoughtful in your decision making - you'll never waste your time outdoors. Never. You might do the worst painting ever, but the time you spent looking carefully at nature and doing your utmost to make sense of it will always result in artist growth. You'll grow in your ability to see and appreciate beauty, and in your ability to translate that into paint.

  • Struggling to identify certain colors in your subject? For example, the cool blue/violets of distant mountains? Try tilting your head to look at them sideways, or even upside-down. Our brains can sometimes develop incorrect preconceptions about colors. Tilting your head can trick your brain into recognizing the correct colors until it becomes trained to recognize them.

  • It took me years of practice and observation to finally realize that "bright: sunset was actually quite grey."

  • To gauge my value range and find the right key of the painting. I establish the overall value statement in the beginning. I put in my general light and darks so I can see it reading as a whole. This way I am not fighting myself to bring the overall value key up or down after it gets going.

  • The edges can inform you of the tonal values. If the edge between two shapes is sharp, then values are contrasting, if the edge is soft and hard to detect, then values must be close together and less contrasting.

  • Take a moment and ask yourself what will the painting be about, the idea? Simple statement often yield a stronger painting. The question to constantly ask yourself is, how is whatever you are currently painting helping bring about your initial idea?

  • Having trouble making decisions outdoors? Painting small, quickly and often. Set aside a day or morning where you go on location with 6x8 or smaller canvases and do a painting every 30 minutes.

  • Want to get better at seeing value? Hang up the color and use black and white for at least a month. before returning to color.

  • Clouds illuminated by bright sunlight are hardly ever just white. They are always warmer than you think. Always compare their hue to the color shapes adjoining them

  • If the components in your landscape aren't where you want them, move them! My canvas didn't lend itself to this wide landscape, so I moved the church closer to the trees. Remember as the artist, you are in charge.

  • In plein air painting less is more:

  • Try to limit the number of values used. This will help improve the design and clarity of the work.

  • Use a limited palette and arrange your pigments in a logical and consistent way every time, either by value or by hue. This will enable you to mix your colors quickly and efficiently.

  • As an artist, you're in control. If you need to move some elements within the landscape to improve your design, do so!

  • Working small will force you to simplify the information in the landscape and establish the large shapes quickly. In addition, it will speed up your overall progress through frequency and repetition.

  • It's critical to have the same even light on both your painting surface and palette. This will make the mixtures you create look correct on your painting surface. Also set up in the shade. The sun will make your work appear brighter than it actually i

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