Landscape Painting: Essential Theory & Process

Mitchell Albala is a Seattle-based painter whose semi-abstract and atmospheric landscapes have been exhibited nationally and in Seattle at Lisa Harris Gallery. His book, Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice, is a national bestseller with nearly 37,000 copies in print. Mitchell is also a popular workshop instructor at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Art School, Winslow Art Center, Daniel Smith Artist’s Materials, and Arte Umbria in Italy. He has lectured on Impressionism and landscape painting at the Seattle Art Museum and written for International Artist and Artists & Illustrators magazines. His popular painting blog, which serves as a companion to his book, was awarded #12 on’s Top 75 Painting Blogs.
4/13-6/15 (no class 4/20)
1:30-4:30 P.M.
Gage Capitol Hill
This class unusual in that it is open to all media — oil, acrylic, watercolor and pastel. So I am not going to list all the possible supplies for each media. As an advanced class, I expect that you have
a good sense of the materials you need and are comfortable with for your particular medium. If you have any questions or concerns, you can email me at

The first class: One of our most important tasks for the first class will be to establish a a direction and set of goals for each painter. Please bring one or two of your works that best express what your work is about and/or the direction you want to go in. If you are unsure of this, then simply bring in what you deem to be a representative example of your work.

The first question: One of the questions will I be asking is, “What is your work about?” Hint: the answer is not a noun.

It’s not about things or subject matter. For example, “My work is about cloudscapes.” or “My work is about urban landscape.” No, that’s the subject. The answer uses adjectives and verbs, and speaks to an aesthetic. “My work is about the abstract movement of clouds.” “My work is about the luminous
quality of clouds.” Or “My work is about the abstract pattern of light and dark found in the urban landscape at dusk.” The most exciting paintings do more than report on landscape content; they offer a unique interpretation of the world by focusing on an aesthetic experience become painting’s reason for
being. Paintings, first and foremost, are about color, shape, pattern, line, movement, and so on (if you have my book, see page 178).

Process: I’m very big on process, and I will encourage you to be, as well. Compositional studies, color studies, thumbnail sketches, multiple source photos, etc. For that reason, you may want to begin a new painting at the start of the class, so I can assist you with this.


Below are supplies that apply to everyone, followed by some specifics recommendations for each type of media.

Recommended text: Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice by Mitchell Albala. This book follows many of the core lessons covered in workshop.

PHOTO REFERENCE MATERIAL (absolutely essential for first class)

We will be working from photographs in this class. I have a large collection of landscape photos, but
you are welcome to bring your own (usage subject to my approval). For tips for selecting photos, visit this page at my website.

  • Sketchbook: along with whatever media and material you usually use to do preliminary studies, be it in graphite, paint or watermedia
  • Masking tape, at least 3/4″ wide (no blue tape)
  • “L” shaped croppers – Make your own from cardboard (For this picture, see the Supply Photo page at my website:
  • Paper Towels (the brown crunchy paper towels in the classroom are not adequate)
  • Tracing paper – 9 x 12 pad. Be sure it is very translucent; some varieties are very milky and opaque. Be sure you can see through it easily.


Use the appropriate brush type for your media. Do not bring old, stiff, encrusted brushes as this will make paint handling very difficult.

For oil and acrylic painting, I find filbert-shaped brushes to be the most versatile. However, if you like flats and are accustomed to working with them, that’s fine. Brushes in sizes #2 – #8 is a good range of sizes. And larger if you are working larger than 16 x 20.


  • For colors, I recommend this “Expanded Primaries” landscape painting
    If there are other colors you like and have had good results with, you may bring those, as
  • Rags – T-shirt type cloth is best. Cut into small 8 x 8, 6 x 6 pieces before you come
  • Painting Medium: Liquin or Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel (which I will have samples of in class)


  • For colors, I recommend this “Expanded Primaries” landscape painting palette. If there are
    other colors you like and have had good results with, you may bring those, as well. Many acrylic painters use the Masterson (or similar) Sta-wet palettes. If you use this, use the wet palette to hold your colors, and a second paper palette to mix your colors
  • Acrylic medium of your choice; e.g., matte medium


Please have an ample range of cool and warm grays. Pastel sets that are overpopulated with very saturated colors are not as effective I recommend papers that allow you to rework/reapply pastel; e.g., Pastel Premier Sanded Paper, Wallis. If not a sandpaper type of paper, then it should be a paper that will not immediately load up with pigment.


You will likely have more colors than those listed in oil and acrylic; at a minimum; however, you
should have the “expanded primaries.”

This studio-based class explores the key foundations of landscape painting: simplification and massing; subject selection, composition; color strategies; and the proper way to use reference photos. Through structured exercises, students will become better prepared to solve these problems when working outdoors. Ideal for those with experience who want to explore landscape or seek a foundation for plein air work. Includes critiques and personalized instruction. Homework required.