“Plein Air Painting” – Painting Outdoors

Painting outdoors is a great way to energize your painting. It can be frustrating and challenging, but it’s also different and fun. It really does not matter if it’s warm or cold. Be prepared and it will be a great experience.

I like to do small (5×4) or (10X8) quick sketches – capturing light and colour without a lot of detailed drawing. I usually take a simple pallet with a few select colours and 2 or 3 brushes – keeping it simple.

I also spend a lot of time looking and learning before I start – watching for light, cloud patterns, how shadows are changing.

Then I find something to paint! Outside is easy, as there is always something going on – a building, a tree, a boat, a pathway, a bench, a flower bed, people relaxing, interesting cloud shapes, or sometimes it’s great to paint nothing – an empty field, a quiet beach, a rolling skyline with lake and a big sky.

Then compose. Quarter the painting and keep the focus away from the middle – horizon line, tree, cloud formation etc.

Contrast is important for a good sketch – light / dark, big / small, warm colour/cool colour, etc.

And remember – sketches are sketches – keep it quick and simple. And if it doesn’t work out – scrape it off and try again.

Join me for a One Day Workshop

“En plein air,” is the French expression for “in the open air.” Plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape. The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists with their desire to paint light and its changing, ephemeral qualities.

INSTRUCTOR: Garth Armstrong
TIME: 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
DATE: Saturday June 17, 2017
LOCATION: Marie Curtis Park, Etobicoke
COST: $150 + HST

OPEN TO ALL LEVELS – Beginner to Advanced

Materials List Here

Gallery will supply easels, lunch & instruction

Students to supply their own paints, brushes, palettes and chair if desired




“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.” George Orwell

“Anyone who says he has finished a canvas is terribly arrogant” Claude Monet

People always ask me what is the process for a painting, how does it come together. Where do you start, how do you finish?

I will make an attempt to tell you. All my paintings are based on something I have seen, and it may be an amalgamation of ideas or scenes. I do a lot of observing, sketching and traveling outdoors. All of this is in my paintings. I also study many great and not so great painters work, and this also influences my ideas when thinking about how I will paint something. However, it is all finally distilled down into a single thought about the subject, and how it will be painted.

Then the process of getting there begins. It usually starts with reference, this could be a sketch or a group of sketches I have done. It may be a photo or number of photos. Photos tend to provide subject matter, sketches provide tone, colour, and feel.

On the large canvas a loose sketch is made in outline – a free, bold handling of the brush – at this stage the image is given movement, depth, composition and focus. And it is amazing at how challenging it is to maintain that throughout the painting.

Then the real painting evolves, mistakes and redirections are hidden, light effects are captured, colour is balanced and details are added where necessary. This happens in layers over a number of days or weeks. And finally the finished painting emerges.

I consider the painting finished when it is a reflection of the original idea. I am not looking for a particular pattern of brushstrokes, style, or any other technical aspects in a final painting. I am looking for a feeling when I look at it that says it is a complete idea. I understand that it could always be better. But I have never like perfect things.

Here are a number of new paintings in various stages of the process.

bark canoe in progress

heavy snow 1in progress

under cedars in progress

crossing the lake in progress



“It is mysterious working with colour”


white canoe granite shoresm

When learning the craft – it is best to seek the advice of experts! I wanted to share some of the things I think about when painting….

“It is mysterious working with colour” Maria Luisa Cruz.

Autumn Bay Pine Lakesm

“An image reflected in a mirror, a rainbow in the sky, and a painted scene

Make their impressions upon the mind, but in essence are other than what they seem

Look deeply at the world, and see an illusion, a magician’s dream.”

– The Seventh Dali Lama.

algonquin morningsm

“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” — Vincent Van Gogh


“If you see a tree as blue, then make it blue.”— Paul Gauguin

magenta swamp near Gooderhamsm


“For those colours which you wish to be beautiful, always first prepare a pure white ground” – Leonardo da Vinci


“ There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.” Pablo Picasso




Summer is here, just.

Summer is here, just. I was moving my boat to a friend’s cottage last weekend and it actually snowed. So much for Summer! But the leaves are out and I have started to paint summer. I still have many images that I have stockpiled from last summer. As of today (besides one quick river fishing adventure) I have not been out painting or canoeing yet. I am working up a number of larger summer images. In these I am really trying to capture the feel of sunlight traveling over the landscape in three very different ways.

The first is the idea of sunshine hitting a big Killarney landscape through heavy cloud.

Autumn Killarney

In creating paintings, I am always looking for iconic views. The Matapédia is a river on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. It’s a wild place with deep valleys, fast wide water, and thick forests. It is also one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the Gaspé region. Perched up above the river, the view is through the pines looking down the course of the river. I used my cobalt and ultramarine blues to depict the rocks water and trees as they fade away into the distance.

The second in a high key, almost abstract view of a lake using muted shades of purple and green against a light sky.

Morning Mist

The Haliberton area is a collection of small deep rocky lakes. I have paddled and fished many lakes in Haliberton. You get the feeling of the high rocky shores and the pine trees climbing the steep banks. Often these lakes have small islands and hidden bays and this is a view of them. I painted a cloudy sky, with a bright light filtering through lighting the rocks on the far shore.

And the last one is the most impressionistic painting. A Killarney ridge in the foreground with a farther ridge behind obscured by atmospheric conditions.

Silver Peak Killarney

I am a big fan of the impressionists and one of the things I really enjoy about their work is reflections in water. This painting is all about the reflections. The foreground shadows and reflections are painted in cool blues, browns and greens. The colour temperature warms in the sunlit areas. While it is a summer day I thinks it amazing how you can depict small changes in temperature through colour choice. This is an area in the southern Kawarthas near Buckhorn. Shallow mud bottom lakes, drowned cedars and large beds of weeds are the norm.

These three are getting close to finished and I am planning to use them as a springboard to some really large paintings – up to 5 feet. Should be interesting, I have not done anything that big before.

It’s 12 below in the studio this morning!


It’s minus 12 this morning in the studio, my canoes are put away for the season and the summer seems like a long way away! The paint is a bit stiffer then usual today(due to the cold night), but I started 3 new large paintings. While it is cold, the light is bright and clear and painting is a pleasure. A couple of sweaters, long johns and a small electric heater keep away the cold.


I have been working on a lot of winter and snow but I also wanted to do a couple of summer pictures as well just to change things up a bit. Here is a taste of what will be going off to the gallery in the next week.






Ontario Society of Artists – A New Member!


Last weekend I participated in the new member selection show for the OSA. And I was accepted into the society. This was a 2 step process – First submit a written proposal and a number of images online. Then present 5 original works for evaluation to the membership. The venue was the historic Ashbridges House in downtown Toronto. All in all a great experience and a chance to take a step back to reiterate my goals and renew my art spirit!

Founded in 1872, the Ontario Society of Artists is Canada’s longest continuing art society.

We are a province-wide professional association for visual artists living and working across the Province. Our mandate is to foster and promote the visual arts through exhibitions, special projects,and arts advocacy. Our membership roster includes many of Canada’s best-known painters, sculptors, printmakers, and photographers. We currently have an active membership of over two hundred artists, working in a wide range of media and from diverse backgrounds and cultures. We are a non-profit, charitable organization, which is administered by a volunteer executive council of artists.
Each year we present exhibitions of works by members, and a juried art exhibition open to all artists working in two and three dimensional media. We encourage emerging artists, established artists and artists from diverse backgrounds to apply to our organization for membership.

I look forward to meeting all of the members, participating in the shows and providing my assistance were needed to promote the society and the art community.



Can’t wait till it snows!


We have had a few flurries here but nothing that has remained on the ground yet. I have been painting snowy landscapes for the past couple of weeks and it is always good to have a walk around in the snow again to see how it looks first hand. I dropped off a small number of sketches and a couple of larger paintings to the gallery this week. Here is a sample:







Artist’s Talk – Revealing the Landscape


Next week I will be doing a talk to kick off my new show at Artworld of Sherway and I though I would provide an outline of what I wanted to get into the talk.

Landscape – a classic Canadian motif.

Great Canadian landscapes – my influences.

How I find the right landscapes – ideas, trips, photos, sketches.

How does it become a painting – composition, sizes, colour, technique.

My hope is that this talk is of interest to you, and let me know if there is anything else you would like to talk about. See you there Sept 20 at 7PM.

Here is a sneak preview to a few new images that will be in the show. All from a recent trip to the North Channel, Manitoulin and Killarney.







Snow, water and light.


This morning my wife and I were drinking coffee looking out back at the new snow and the subject turned to colour. Specifically blue. This morning the snow is mostly blue with a touch of peach where the early sunlight filters through the trees. When we are asked what colour is snow, we invariably say snow is white. But on observation snow is never white. And that is why it is challenging to paint. Snow is every colour – in a way it is like water – always changing always a different look – sometimes blue, or pink, or yellow or green, and sometimes a strange combination of all colours.


I have been working on 2 series of sketches that works through some of these ideas. One series is about water – light effects on a shoreline at various times of the day and various weather effects. The second series is about snow and the play of light across this “white canvas”. A close look reveals that there is very little true white in any of these sketches.


But what is realized is that snow and water share many of the same qualities – a shadow of one colour, a reflection of another, and highlight of a third. It is the quality and balance of these three that becomes important to the outcome of the light effect.


Snow, water and the effect of light – it is a simple combination that has held the artist’s interest for centuries. To capture their quality, you need to look at the subject with new eyes each time – for it is always changing.










sleigh revisedsm



Always chasing the light.


Winter is here, although we have had little snow to this point. This has not slowed down the enthusiasm for winter images. I have just finished a couple of 30 x 40 canvases where I have tried to depict the feeling of light on snow in 2 different ways.

woodcutters final

woodcutter sketch

wood cutters 2

The first is at evening, just as the light is fading – an image of a woodcutters wagon coming along a road. This image is tip of the hat to some great Quebec painters who capture this motif with amazing results.
The other image is of an old maple at the edge of a field. Here the morning light filters through the trees from behind. This provides a great opportunity to explore the dappled effect of the sunshine on the snow and the suggestion of the shadows of the branches.

winter maple final

winter maple 1

Many of you are curious to see a painting in progress so I have included some photos for the prelim sketches as well as the canvases at various stages.

To all, enjoy a great holiday season and thank you again for your support.