The Natural Landscape: Plein Air Watercolor in the Sierra Nevada



General Description:

First paint the forest, then the trees.

  In this all-levels course we will develop technical skills and awareness that serve to simplify the complex landscape. By starting with general statements, each of us will be able to add information by increments, stopping when the story is told to our satisfaction. This approach deliberately leaves as many doors open as possible, avoiding the common watercolor problem of over-painting the scene.

We will practice watching for opportunities to let the paint display its fluidity and transparency. Every painting has passages where it is important to paint carefully, and other moments when we can be carefree. We will practice seeing the difference in advance, so our work can be both casual and descriptive at the same time.

At each site we will begin with a discussion and a quick and simple study designed to address any lingering questions about value, color, wetness or composition. Each day will include guided step-by-step paintings and instructor demonstrations. We will practice solving technical problems as they arise, by first clearly articulating the nature of the issue.


Date of Period




June 24-29, 2018



Tom Hoffmann


Tom Hoffmann is a watercolor painter and teacher with over 40 years of experience. For the past 13 years he has taught three levels of watercolor at the Gage Academy of Art, in Seattle. Tom’s classes and plein air workshops fill very quickly. His book, Watercolor Painting: A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium, published by Watson/Guptill, is available in three languages. To see Tom’s Paintings and to learn more about his book, please go to his website:

Class Schedule

On Sunday we will gather informally after dinner to meet each other and share our thoughts about watercolor and plein air painting.

Monday through Friday begins after breakfast with a review of work from the previous day. We may follow that with an exercise aimed at a specific skill set, or we may just head right out to our first location of the day. At each new site we will make one form or another of preliminary study, such as a monochrome value study or a shapes without detail simplification of the scene. Tom will do a demo or lead a step-by-step painting. After that everyone will work independently from the scenes at the site, while Tom circulates for one-on-one consultation.

There will be a break in the middle of the day. Depending on conditions and various intangibles we may stay where we are or we may move to a new location. Lunch happens somewhere in there, too.

The official painting day ends around 5:30. The light tends to get better as the afternoon turns toward evening, so there will most likely be a few of us painting informally right up to dinner.

Supplies and Other Useful Items



The following list comprises the colors I use most often for plein air landscape painting. If you paint regularly you have probably already developed a palette that serves you well. It is not necessary for all of us to have the same exact colors. A warm and a cool of each family will serve you well.

  • Green Gold (or Nickel Azo Yellow)
  • Hansa Yellow Light
  • Naples Yellow
  • Sap Green
  • Pthalo Green
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Pthalo Blue
  • True Red, such as Permanent Red, Napthal Red or Pyrol Red
  • Transparent Pyrol Orange (or Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet)
  • Burnt Sienna Deep
  • Dioxazine Violet (Carbazole Violet at Daniel Smith)
  • White



  • 2 or 3 flats (1/2”, 3/4”, 1 ½”)
  • 2 rounds (18 and 30)


  • Six or eight quarter sheets (11 x 15) per day of 140# cold press, 100% cotton! If the package doesn’t say 100% cotton then it is not the real thing.


  • Hat with brim
  • Lightweight board 16 x 12 (yard signs work well)
  • Masking or artist’s tape
  • Pencils and soft eraser
  • Sketchbook
  • Easel or stool
  • Lightweight palette, such as Robert E. Wood or Masterson
  • Water containers, one for painting and one with a lid for carrying a supply


  • warm sleeping bag
  • flashlight
  • camp chair
  • bring your own tent or use tents with beds provided at the field campus


Although days are generally warm, or even hot at lower elevations, be prepared for temperatures as low as freezing at night and the possibility of rain. Variable weather clothing that may be layered is best. Bring long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, warm sweater and jacket, t-shirt and shorts or skirt, tennis shoes or hiking boots, rain gear, and a warm hat and gloves for cold weather or night activities. And don't forget your swim suit for warm afternoon dips in the lakes.


  • day pack
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellant
  • alarm clock
  • water bottles
  • plastic containers for packed lunches