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

The first class: You won’t need your painting supplies for the first class, but you will need: sketchbook, drawing tools, L-shaped cropping tool, tracing paper, and photo references.

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.

Supply Photos: Some of the supplies are best described with a picture. Where indicated, you can see a photo of the particular supply at this page on my website:

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.

BRUSHES: You may paint in oil or acrylic in this workshop. For oil painters, a range of hog bristle brushes are best.

For acrylic painters, soft bristled synthetic brushes are preferred. Note: Some synthetic brushes are strictly for acrylics, while others are rated for both acrylics and oils.

Do not bring old, stiff, encrusted brushes as this will make paint handling very difficult.

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. Since the sizing systems used by different brush manufacturers vary, here are the brush sizes in inches. (This is the width at the ferrule, not the length of the bristles.):

  • 1 (one) large #10–#12 bright or short filbert (⅞” to 1″)
  • 1 (one) #2 filbert (approx. 1/4″ wide)
  • 1 (one) #6 filbert (approx. 1/2″ wide)
  • 1 (two) #8 filberts (approx. 5/16 ” wide)

Additional brushes of these same sizes will allow you to assign different colors to different brushes.


I recommend a palette consisting of a cool and warm variety of each primary, plus a few neutrals, and white. You can preview this palette, with complete explanations for each color, as my website:

  • Titanium White only (not zinc or flake)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Phthalo Blue is an essential color, but it is so intense that it overpowers any mixture. Instead, I recommend Daniel Smith Artists’ Materials Mediterranean Blue – or – Sennelier’s Blue Azure (both are like phthalo blue with a little white added to it) – or – Manganese blue which is a much “weaker” version of phthalo, and therefore much easier to manage.
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Cadmium Orange or (in oil) Gamblin’s Permanent Orange or (for acrylic painters) a Cadmium Orange “Hue”
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium or Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Lemon Yellow or Nickel Titanate Yellow – I prefer Nickel Titanate over regular lemon yellow because it’s “coolness” is more distinct. See this blog post about the advantages of nickel titanate:
  • Green – I don’t recommend a lot of greens; it’s best to mix your own. However, if I were to have only one green in my palette, I would choose Chrome Oxide Green. Unlike viridian and sap greens, it has strong covering power and can easily be manipulated in cool or warm directions. Though having viridian and sap on hand is fine.
  • Burnt Umber
  • Yellow Ochre

OPTIONAL COLORS – not absolutely necessary, but helpful:

  • Gamblin’s Dioxazine Purple – or – Daniel Smith’s Carbozale Violet
  • Naples Yellow
  • Cadmium Red Light


I can’t tell you exactly how many paintings you will do, because it depends on how many studies you do and how fast you work. Stretched canvas is too fancy for the exercise-oriented paintings we will be doing. Except for the final painting, all our exercises and paintings will be done on relatively small surfaces — 8″ x 10″ or 9″ x 12″.

Do not color or tone the surfaces before coming to class.

Option A: You can use canvas panels; they are inexpensive and portable. Fredrix and Dick Blick brands are good. Another portable, inexpensive painting surface I recommend is:

Option B: Pre-primed, unstretched canvas. Fredrix brand: “Medium Texture Real Artist’s Canvas Canvas Pad” in either 12″ x 16″ or 9″ x 12″. You can easily find this at Dick Blick, Daniel Smith or Artist’s & Craftsman. It has a bright yellow cover. (For a picture, see the Supply Photo page at my website: Many canvas pads are not made from canvas, but texturized plastic or paper. Do not get this type. The benefit of pre-primed unstretched canvas this is that you can use whole sheets, or cut the sheets to a desired size and tape them to a “backboard” (cardboard panel). This is a very lightweight and portable approach. If using this approach, you will also need:

Small scissor and small ruler, for cutting out the canvas pieces.

– Used to tape canvas pieces onto. An 11″ x 14″ or 16″ x 20″ canvas panel is ideal for this, or a plasticized foam-core board. (A wood masonite panel is too heavy.)


  • Palette – No smaller than 9″ x 12”. Glass, wood, or disposable. If using disposable paper palette, white (as opposed to gray) is preferred. Bring small bulldog clips to hold the edges down. If using wood, be sure that palette is clean, and not caked up with layers of old encrusted paint. This makes mixing with the palette knife difficult.
  • Bulldog Clips (small) to hold things down.
  • Masking tape, at least 3/4″ wide (no blue tape)
  • Palette knife, metal, essential for mixing! Do not use the long flat-bladed type that’s like a regular knife, but a spade-head type. (For a picture, see the Supply Photo page at my website:
  • Disposable Vinyl or Latex Gloves. Can be found in most pharmacies or hardware stores. Test fit for size before you buy! Reusable and good for other workshops, too.
  • Oil Painting Medium – Liquin (smallest bottle) or Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel (which I will have samples of in class)
  • Acrylic Painting Medium – Matte Medium or comparable medium that you prefer to use.
  • Palette Cup (for oil painters) The small metal kind that clasps to the edge of the palette. The plastic or metal type with the screw cap lids are NOT good. The mouth is too small. Optional: just use a deep jar cap instead of the palette cup.
  • Plastic container for water (for acrylic painters)
  • “L” shaped cropling tool – Make your own from cardboard. (For a picture, see the Supply Photo page at my website:
  • Solvent, pint sized. Gamsol by Gamblin. Available in class if you prefer not to buy.
  • Small container/jar for brush cleaning. Approx. 8 oz. with a screw top lid.
  • Sketch book, small – 5″ x 7″ or 8″ x 10″
  • Pencils – soft 2B and/or 6B
  • Markers – 1 (one) black. I recommend Prismacolor brand. They make a double-nib marker with a broad point on one end and a smaller point on the other. Blick’s brand is also good, and a little cheaper. (For picture, see the Supply Photo page at my website:
  • Small plastic bottle for transporting solvent, 8 oz., with the flip down spout, like hand lotion bottles. Convenient and safe. Tip: It’s easier to pour the solvent into this small-mouthed bottle with a tiny plastic 2″ or 3″ funnel. Important! Transfer the solvent to the plastic bottle before you come to class.
  • 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.
  • Paper Towels
  • Rags (essential) – T-shirt type cotton cloth is best. Please, cut into small 8 x 8″, 6 x 6″ pieces before you come to class

Questions about supplies? Email instructor Mitchell Albala:

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.