Painting outdoors with Richard Jordan

By Alisha Siebers, Director of the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center

If the outdoors is calling you, consider joining the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan for one of their Paint Outs.

Plein Air painting is simply painting outdoors—an activity popularized by the Impressionists who tried to capture outdoor light and air in their works.

Richard Jordan, the director of the West Michigan group, has discovered that painting outdoors is the fastest way to learn to paint because you’re given a lot of visual problems to solve in real time. When you’re standing in the very landscape you’re painting in real time in real life, the outdoor light and conditions are constantly changing. Rather than having limitless time in a studio, you have at best 3-4 hours because the scene changes. In these conditions, Jordan learned tactics such as establishing the shadows and setting up the bulk of the painting quickly. That way, if the light changes, the shadow shapes remain in place.

The Plein Air artists join Paint Outs at parks all around West Michigan on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month except December. They publish the locations on their website, The Paint Outs are totally free – just show up. Even though the artists gather as a group, they work on their own and focus on different scenes.

At the end, they often meet in a parking lot and line up the paintings and go through them one by one. Artists explain their vision or a problem they’re having. Everyone chimes in with friendly ideas and suggestions. Richard explains, “That’s how we learn. We help each other. At the end of the day, you can kick it around with more experienced painters and get tips.”

He emphasizes that the group is for all skill levels—anyone can participate for free. The next Paint Out will be at Oval Beach in Saugatuck on April 9.

Richard has advice for new artists who may feel frustrated that their work didn’t turn out the way they wanted. He advises them to remember that they’re learning and to be flexible and not be a perfectionist: “You know what you’re trying to get after, but it only comes with practice. With the arts, you only get better if you put paint on canvas day after day. You don’t realize when the change starts to happen. You only realize how advanced you are with time. Keep growing, keep thinking. Don’t put pressure on yourself.”

Richard started plein air painting in 1997 and founded the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan in 2008. He knows from experience that it takes time to learn the craft: “The result will come later. The process is what you have to enjoy.” If you would like to learn from Richard Jordan’s experience, he teaches summer classes on the method and artistry of outdoor painting, including topics like how to paint water and how to capture the character of trees. You can reach him at or at (269) 501-4383.

You can see Richard’s work on display in his show “Painting Common Ground – The Plein Air Landscapes of Erwin Wolff and Richard Jordan” at the Carnegie Center for the Arts, 107 N. Main, Three Rivers, through April 7.

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