Plein Air Painting Easels

Back to



  home easel reviews contact


So often, buildings are an integral part of the landscapes we paint. Convincing architecture requires not only good drawing and a keen power of observation, but also a basic understanding of linear perspective (how the lines of a structure recede towards a singular “vanishing point”). All rectangular, level and plumb shapes have their “vanishing point” at the horizon.

I’m not going to go into a diatribe on “perspective”. There are literally hundreds of books that can instruct you in the fundamentals of linear perspective. I’m going to assume that each of you has adequate drawing skills and a rudimentary understanding of how the lines of a building converge as they recede.

I never feel the need to pull out a ruler when I’m rendering architecture. My main concern is that my buildings are described in a fundamentally convincing way. I’m pretty much content if they contain the necessary characteristics for an effective representation. This requires dedicated scrutiny of the structure, so that I can remain relatively faithful to the perspective without sacrificing artistic expression. Accuracy is certainly important, but not at the expense of seeing the artist’s animated and expressive hand in the final product.

You can be correct, without being “tight”.

(Note: When I’m traveling abroad, and my paintings include the architecture of a particular country, I generally keep my work sketchy, adding only enough architectural embellishment to make the structures convincing. That’s why I also supplement my plein air paintings with photos. The data on the photos can be used for additional details when I extrapolate my travel sketches into larger, studio works.)

 It is absolutely essential that the structures be integrated into the landscape.

All too often, I see paintings with buildings that look like they were pasted on the canvas, or paper as an afterthought. This can be a result of several things:

  1. Lack of observation by the artist, as regards to how the buildings relate to the surroundings.

  2. Saving the building until the end of the painting (under the assumption that they are harder to paint)

  3. Some strange notion that the buildings are “in” the landscape, as opposed to “of” the landscape. (This may, in part, stem from our conditioning that we are “on” the earth, as opposed to “of” the earth – ergo, our calloused disregard for the planet.)


If we just take the time to go on-location, and carefully observe the structures in their natural surroundings, it becomes readily apparent that Nature has a way of integrating the structures into the landscape, using “lost” and “found” edges (see “Sweet Mystery” December, 2009), and the reflection of local color.

Here is a selection of watercolors and oils, where I’ve included buildings as both focal points and backdrops:

“Autumn in Rathmullen – Ireland” 16x20 oil
“Carpathian Village” 15x11 w/c

“Farmhouse – France” 9x12 oil

“La Primavera” 12x9 w/c

“Loire Valley Monastery” 11x15 w/c
     “North Bovey Cottages” 9x12 oil
“Street Scene – Granada, Spain” 9x12 oil
      “Summer Along the Dart River” 24x36 oil
   “Washerwomen – Janitzio” 16x20 oil

My sister, Nancy, took up watercolors about two and a half years ago. She’s made great progress. Occasionally she’ll hit a roadblock, and I’ll paint a quick demo, and email it to her. Recently, she was struggling with incorporating buildings into her work. I made up the following piece, as a demonstration of one way to handle a bunch of buildings. It’s an 8x11, and it took about 25 minutes (not including stopping to photograph). It’s no great shake (no bells, no whistles), but I thought it was germane to this article, and might be of interest.


(visit the En Plein Air Zone on line for enlargements of the demo images)

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5



Happy Painting!