What Not To Do In Ryan Brown’s Plein Air Workshop

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Ryan’s philosophy centers around a deep understanding of the subject.  He often said, “It’s not about finishing the painting or even creating a great painting; it’s about successfully understanding what you are seeing and how to interpret it successfully on the canvas.”  To this end, he advised me to paint something really small and specific.  For example, rather than painting a creek running through the forest, I painted the bit of moss covering the stone creek bed wall. The idea is to avoid biting off more than you can chew.  Start small, and once you’ve mastered the moss, move on to the creek.

The empty backpack.


As I mentioned, I had been drinking a lot of water coming up the trail, and unfortunately there are no facilities up on the mountain.   After some less-than-graceful maneuvering in my leggings and Frankenstein boots,

I realized I would have to remove my now damp leggings.  I still had on my little tunic and, even better, my large “smock” that was actually a dress that completely covered me.  I have never loved any piece of clothing more than I loved my smock at that moment. At the end of the day, I hiked back down the trail to meet Ryan.  He looked at me and asked, “Weren’t you wearing pants today?”   I looked him in the eye (which was very hard to do) and said, “I was unsuccessful at my bathroom break.” He started belly laughing, his body folded completely in half.  One by one the other guys came back, relating the story to each newcomer, and we all stood around hooting. Interestingly enough, I think that was the moment I became part of the gang. Who knew such an embarrassing thing could be such a great icebreaker?


Shelli Alford is an artist and author, who enjoys learning from master oil painters from around the world and reviewing their classes, workshops and demonstrations.

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  1. glenda

    July 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    SB: It’s because you were fearless about telling the truth in a difficult moment. One of my conductors, Craig Hella Johnson, has four rules required for great singing. I think they might just apply to painting, as well.
    Show up.
    Pay attention.
    Tell the truth.
    Don’t get tied to the outcome.

    I might add a 5th: Laugh a lot

    Luv, Aunt G

    • Shelli Alford

      July 27, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      He sounds like a very smart big picture guy. I agree with your add on, laughing almost always cures embarrassment.

  2. jo lessner

    July 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    What do they say in fashion? Always think in layers. See your fashion degree is paying off. The scenery in your photos looks breathtaking. You have really traveled to some wonderful places. Keep it up. Your Grandmother would be proud of you. Love always, Aunt Jo

    • Shelli Alford

      July 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm

      MWAH! Love you too!!

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