Ask the Expert…Mark Fehlman

Question: Why should I paint en plein air?

Answer: You’re Invited to the Best Party Ever!

Do you want to join the best party that you have been to in years?


This party includes fun, interesting, creative, and positive people. It is ongoing and will take place in interesting places, with people doing things that they don’t normally do. The “games” will get you to do things that could possibly be embarrassing and people will talk about it. You might even get written up in the local paper or national magazine for what you did. The best part is that you might even get a party prize for your antics.

This party is called plein air painting. Eric Rhoads, publisher of Plein Air magazine says “plein air painting is the new golf.” There is fun for painters of all talent levels at this party and you just need to do one thing—show up.

mf2I was an architect for over 30 years. I loved my work and thought that I would do it until I was an old man. There was a gallery two doors down from my office that I used to visit a couple of times a week to marvel at the works of art. It featured plein air based art. The owner taught classes, so I decided to try it.

Once I started, I was hooked. Within 5 years, I sold my successful practice to paint full-time. I have never had more fun, made more great friends, traveled to more exotic places, and sat and contemplated beauty, more than I have done as a painter.

The community of artists


Artists are very fun people. I always have fun on a painting trip with my fellow painters. They are interesting, adventurous, motivated and well educated. These are the type of friends that you want to have.

Are you good enough to play?

When I first started to paint outside, I was invited by artists who were much better than me. These were people whose work I admired. The “Great Artist’s Club” is not exclusive. I started to going to week long workshops which were a blast. The teachers, who are painting gods, are normal people, who are fun to have a drink with. Everyone is good enough to play this game.

You can do this anywhere!

mf4Wherever you go, you can paint what is around you. Our family went to Fiji when I was just starting out. I took my plein air setup and painted for two hours every morning. You look at a place differently when you try to capture it on canvas. On the plane over, I sketched people on the plane. I actually traded some of my paintings to the resort for the rental of diving equipment.

Join a group. Get involved.

There are a lot of painting teachers, groups and organizations where you can find artists at all levels. I used to go to Laguna Beach Invitational every fall to watch the top artists paint in the 3-hour Quick Draw and was amazed at their mastery. I joined the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, LPAPA because I wanted in on the fun. The California Art Club is another organization that has lots of events for painting and exhibition each year. If you’re not in California, look for groups around you.

Subscribe to publications

There are plenty of good magazines like Plein Air, Southwest Art and American Art Collector that will get you into the world of art.

Participate in an event

mf5There are lots of local and national painting events. I started at the San Clemente Plein Air Festival. It is an open events with lots of artists. It was a lot of fun and I actually took a fourth place ribbon in the Quick Draw. I’m currently in Hawaii for the Maui Plein Air Invitational. This spring, my calendar is full. It is packed with events, travels with friends, and exhibitions. I am having more fun than I could have imagined. This party just keeps getting better.

I have been painting full time now for 10 years and identify myself as an artist and not an architect with a hobby. I like to jump in with all fours when I do something, but you do it your way. The world of painting is open to everyone including artists, collectors, enthusiasts and admirers of all ages. A good party needs all of these types to be a great party.

Mark Fehlman lives with his family in San Diego. He is a signature artist in LPAPA and an artist member of the California Art Club. You can see his work at



Ask the Expert…John Lasater IV

Question: How do you approach painting nocturnes and not arrive home with a bad painting?

There are a lot of subjects I’m interested in, but not all of them are easy when it gets down to it, like posing a model, or waking up early for a sunrise. Plein air nocturnes are difficult to get motivated for because it’s at a time of day I’d much rather be sinking into the couch. All of my nocturnes have come with some element of struggle, so that has to be part of the experience for me. It might explain some of the “bad paintings” as you put it.

The start is always the hardest part, but there’s a meditative mood to the night. Once I have a piece going, nocturne painting becomes one of my favorite experiences.

Here are a few of the basics when it comes to setting up and painting a nocturne.


Good equipment is obviously important, especially the lighting. I used to clip flexible book lights to my canvas and palette, which was simple and cheap. Recently I’ve upgraded to a Revelite, which distributes the light more evenly. The Revelite also allows you to dim the lights to your pleasure. One warning though: I’ve found you can easily over-illuminate your canvas. A dim light is better, because you can see the value separation more truthfully.

This is Revelite


Color Control
This is the Revelite
Color Control

Because there is typically one main light source in a nocturne scene, you will observe a tonal, or monotone, key. One of the biggest hangups I’ve noticed with beginning nocturne painters is they color their piece as if they were painting a daytime scene. The alternating light sources of sun and blue sky makes a myriad of color vibrations in the daytime that are significantly missing from most nocturne scenes. For this reason, I practice color control, which means, I keep a limited color palette for the scene. Below are some examples.

The first scene, entitled “South and Carroll,” was under complete influence of two or three incandescent streetlights. This gave a very warm, or orange, tone to the whole painting. Instead of pushing any of the cool colors in the sky and shadows, I made sure they were strongly influenced by the warm colors I was mixing into everything else, because the shadows had no significant light source.

"South and Carroll"
South and Carroll

The second scene, called “Elkhorn Avenue,” was strongly influenced by the dusky cool sky light. The colors I chose for the shapes influenced by that light were limited to give it a more monotone effect. Also, knowing that I wanted to emphasize the warm points of light given off by the city, I made sure to grey the cool colors surrounding them.

"Elkhorn Avenue"
Elkhorn Avenue

The third scene, called “Corridor,” has a more divided concept. I was struck by how the brilliant, warm section of town was framed in by its surroundings. To accomplish this piece I literally divided the composition and divided the light sources as well. The diagram shows how you can see a similar temperature and color brought about by the two distinct types of light sources.


Because of the various isolated points of light in a nocturne, composing is trickier. In the daytime, it’s easier to see compositional shapes connecting with one another, but at night they appear more isolated. Finding a scene with midtone shapes that can connect the lit areas helps.

In the scene below, called “Cellar Door,” I demonstrate the movement of the eye, and how the midtones play a role in directing the eye to the brighter shapes. This is a large painting (24×30) created on location in a basement at a local resort. No photo of the scene would do it justice.

Cellar Door
Cellar Door
Going the extra mile

Beyond the unique considerations that a nocturne requires, I like to take my paintings a step further. One of the exciting things to study at night is the effect of glow around a light source and the colors that vibrate around it.

Oakes Street
Oakes Street

In this painting, “Oakes Street,” I looked carefully into and around the street light and the neon sign. It would be easy to be formulaic as often as I’ve painted things like this, but for this one I took my time. It was my hope that the painting would look like it had an internal light source. I’ve included details of those areas, so you can see the color treatment around the lights.


Get on out there and give it a try. Don’t worry about the failures. Simplify your colors, get a good composition going and go the extra mile!

We usually do a nocturne a day in my workshops, so check out the schedule.

John lasaterJohn P. Lasater IV developed a love for art working as a designer and illustrator for a division of Hallmark Cards.

John now paints full time, both from his studio in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and on the road painting “en plein air.” He also teaches national workshops. John’s honors include many Best of Show or First Place awards in national outdoor painting events, an Award of Excellence from the Oil Painters of America national exhibition, Artist in Residency’s, dozens of mentions in art magazines and feature articles in Southwest Art and Plein Air Magazine. He also served as a faculty member for the 2015 Plein Air Convention put on by Plein Air Magazine.