How to Paint a Plein Air Sketch of a Lemon Tree with Acrylics (Video Tutorial)

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting, painting

 

Morning class, this week I’ve been in Mallorca soaking up the scenery and enjoying painting outside. I found this secluded tree within a lemon grove that I thought would work well as a little Plein air sketch with acrylics.

You can download a reference image below to follow along with the lesson.

Downloading the reference photograph

The photo below can be ‘right clicked’ and ‘Save image as’, so you can use it as a reference image, print it out and follow along with the video above.

You can download a larger version of the image here.

lemon-grove-sketch

Whenever I’m sketching outside, I’m always looking for contrast and shapes that will translate well into a drawing as well as a painting…

With my first sketch, I wanted to incorporate the whole of the lemon tree but the sketch brought up a number of issues within the scene. There wasn’t nearly enough tonal contrast or space around the tree and the lemons weren’t prominent enough in the sketch as they had initially appeared, so I moved position, searching for an alternative close up view.

lemon-tree-pen-ink-sketch

A closer view of the same tree but the mass of leaves meant there wasn’t enough separation between the background and main subject for the style of painting I was going for. I wanted a more contemporary composition.

For the drawings in my sketchbook above I used:

travel-urban-sketching-materials

  • Muji 0.5mm pen
  • Pentel Brush Pen
  • Lamy Fountain pen with Lamy water soluble Ink
  • Pentel Aquash water brush Pen

A Plein Air Sketch of a Lemon Tree with Acrylics

lemon-tree-painting-tutorial

I finally settled on this lemon tree as it had some lovely negative spaces in-between the branches and a great muted grey wall behind, that added a nice colour balance to all the ranges of greens in the tree.

Here’s a close up of the trunk, notice the lovely green hues on the edge of the branch and the warm stone colour on the bottom right of the wall. This helps to give a good indication of the colour ground that would work well for the study.

Drawing Out

The canvas board I used (7 x 5 inch) had been pre-prepared with a colour ground of Yellow Ochre Acrylic paint. For the sketch, I used a Burnt Umber watercolour marker, as it’s water-soluble it allows me to blend sections using just a water brush pen to softly indicate the shadows.

watercolor-marker-pen

  • Winsor & Newton Watercolour Marker in Burnt Umber
  • Pentel Aquash Waterbrush Pen
  • Canvas Board, pre-primed with a coloured ground of Yellow Ochre

Acrylic Pochade Box Setup

Here I’m setting up a plastic craft box that can be used with acrylic paints when working in a hotter climate. I’ve cut small sections of a stay-wet palette to fit into the slots on the top row, and this will keep the mixes wetter for longer. I soak the absorbent paper underneath with water, then lay a greaseproof paper on top, which the paints sit upon.

I’m sat in the shade with the box on my knee, drawn out and ready to start painting.

Colour Palette

I’ve also cut a grey tear-off palette to size and taped it onto a piece of card so it fits snugly on the bottom shelf of the box. This acts as a sturdy mixing palette when sketching but can store neatly within the box when travelling.

The colours for the painting are:

  • Titanium White Heavy Body (Golden Acrylics Paints)
  • Titanium White Galeria (Winsor & Newton)
  • Azo Yellow Medium (Winsor Newton)
  • Phthalo Green (Blue Shade) (Winsor Newton)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor Newton)
  • Burnt Umber (Golden Acrylics Paints)
  • Ultramarine Blue (Golden Acrylics Paints)

I use two whites, a student grade Galeria White from Winsor & Newton and an artist-grade Titanium White from Golden paints. I predominantly used the Winsor and Newton white for this study as the consistency from the tube is a little more fluid.

Pro tip: You can read more about the differences between acrylic whites here

Brushes

I use three brushes throughout the painting:

  • Small Synthetic Round – Rosemary & Co, size 4, series 344
  • Small synthetic Flat – Rosemary & Co, size 10, series 302
  • Isabey Isacryl Filbert, size 6, series 6572

Shadow Pattern Block-in

The first colour I mix is a muted grey tone, using Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. I’m not using any water to dilute the paint but dipping the brush into the acrylic glazing liquid.

I use a small size 4 Round brush from Rosemary & Co and concentrate on the shadow shape being cast by the leaves and branches of the lemon tree. I then paint in this pattern around the drawing of the dark tree trunk on the bottom left.

Once I’ve got some of the darker greys in I start to add a lighter, slighter warmer grey to increase the tonal range and interest within the background. I’m still only looking for the spaces between and around the tree.

Balancing the vivid green

I swapped to a larger size 6 filbert brush. This is from Isabey called an Isacryl brush. Using a dark mix of the Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue I block in the tree trunk. Adding a little light gives a variation to indicate the direction of the light fall.

Using a small flat synthetic brush  I begin to block in a base using Azo Yellow Medium. This colour isn’t as opaque a Cadmium Yellow but is a non-toxic version. You might notice some areas where the watercolour marker blends into the wet paint, giving a muted orange hue to the undertone.

I take a tiny touch of the Phthalo Green (blue shade) and mix with the yellow to get this vivid sap green. I then start to apply this colour to the top section of the painting and begin to vary the intensity and variety by altering the colour using yellow and white. Adding white will cool the yellow but allow us a greater tonal range.

Bringing the lemon forward

Now the block-in has dried, I start to judge my tones again.

At this stage, the light has also changed so there isn’t as much of the patterned contrast on the wall, but I’m trying to keep that colour effect in my mind’s eye until the cloud cover passes.

lemon-tree-painting

Just using the fine edge of the square brush I indicate the pattern of the branches.

acrylic-plein-air-background-blue

I now mix a cooler blue to balance with the sap green for the top section of the painting. Now the sun has briefly come back into the scene, I try to get down the shadow pattern on the wall.

plein-air-with-acrylic

Here with the Yellow and Burnt Umber, I can mix darker, duller tones that can act as the shadow side of the lemon. When I look again at the tree, it feels as if my lemons are camouflaged too much next to the rest of the tree leaves – so I start to paint in some more refinement around them with a darker green to try and pull them forward

impasto-yellow-with-acrylics

By painting in some darker green around the foliage at the top of the painting and then breaking that up with some of the muted blue colours, there are fewer colours to fight with the lemon.

As I continue to simplify the background I also accentuate the lemon by adding some thicker impasto onto the sides in the light. This impasto area is only on the lemons so it makes them stand out more from the background.

Here is the finished Plein air acrylic sketch, the total painting time was about 30 minutes with a 15-minute sketch.

This is Tom, a little friend who joined me by the trees.

{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

Dianne Laroche June 14, 2017

Thank you for the detail step by step. Easy to follow. Dianne Laroche

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

My pleasure Dianne, hope your lemon study turns out well.
Will

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Piper Lehman June 14, 2017

Oh, I love this. Thanks for the tutorial. I love lemons. They remind me of Sorrento. Gotta try this little painting in oils. Thanks again. Love getting your emails.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Good one Piper, really pleased you enjoyed it.
Will

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Jelly June 14, 2017

This is exactly what I have been looking for and today it pops up in my email!!. Did you transfer your tube paints into these mallet containers!?

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Hi Jelly, yes, that’s right, just top them up from larger tube paints.
Will

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Zeynab Mohammadi June 14, 2017

I love it

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

cool

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Dawn Mortiboy June 14, 2017

Brilliant, I’m definitely doing this at the weekend – perfect sunny outside practice. Thanks Will

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Really hope you enjoy it Dawn.
Cheers,
Will

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andy Anand June 14, 2017

Thank you Will, What a big surprise I have been looking for an inspiration for a plein air painting This couldn’t have come at a better time, have just brought a Guerilla Box with umbrella and attached chair with wheels no more lifting My work is cut out for the summer, Thanks ever so much. Regards Andy

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Good timing Andy, really hope you enjoy it.
Will

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Sherrie June 14, 2017

Great demo Will! Really wish you would do more of these plein air demo’s for us. We learn so much more by watching, rather than reading. I really picked up a great tip about bringing the lemons out with the darker color around and the impasto. The shadow behind really makes this little painting so much more interesting to the viewer!
Thanks!

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Sherrie, really pleased you found it informative for your learning style.
Will

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Maureen Glynn June 14, 2017

Thank you Will for a delightful tutorial.
I am impressed with the ingenious set-up of your palette in the box for acrylic paints with a support for your prepared board. That looks ideal for plein air painting. I shall certainly try it sometime.
The lemon grove is such a lovely subject. I like the way you paint tonally and build up the tree and lemon shapes and form.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

My pleasure Maureen, hope you enjoy painting the lemons.
Will

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UbaidSyed June 14, 2017

Thanks dear for sharing the video.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Glad you enjoyed it Ubaid.
Will

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Abel June 14, 2017

Hola
Me gusto mucho el tutorial del limonero, te felicito, por esta labor que enseñas a los demás, a mi me gusta la pintura y siempre que tengo un tiempo lo hago, gracias por compartir, recibe un saludo desde Venezuela

Hello
I really liked the lemon tutorial, I congratulate you, for this work you teach others, I like painting and whenever I have some time I do it, thanks for sharing, greetings from Venezuela

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Muchas gracias Abel, espero que disfruten pintando la escena.

Thanks very much Abel, hope you enjoy painting the scene.

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Frances June 14, 2017

Will, I really enjoyed this one and I think I will have to have a go at it, thanks so much for sharing, I learn so much from you. Many thanks, Frances.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks very much Frances, really pleased you enjoyed it.
Will

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Jill June 14, 2017

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed watching that extremely succinct, informative and attractive video resulting in that lovely painting. But I am puzzled as to how the brushes in your left hand kept so clean? I always keep the bristles of mine in water when temporarily not in use ; then wipe before using again. Is this yet another thing I have been doing wrong?

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Hi Jill, there was a couple of times during the painting that I cleaned out the brushes in water.
Cheers,
Will

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Helle June 14, 2017

Thank you for this Will! Looking forward to giving it a go.

Best regards,
Helle

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Hope it goes well Helle.
Will

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Amal Naguib June 14, 2017

Very well explained .thank you

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Pleased you found it easy to follow Amal.
Will

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doug June 14, 2017

Will, I continue to be very impressed by the generosity of your web site. I realize that to some extent it is marketing to sell your paid content, but you do not have to do it, and I am amazed and grateful at the high quality of the stuff you offer for free. The paid tutorials are great as well.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Cheers Doug, yes, lots of schools follow along with the free tutorials so want them to be useful for all students, really glad you’re enjoying the courses. Check out these year 10 jugs paintings!
Will

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beth gower June 14, 2017

I really enjoyed the lemon tree tutorial. I always learn something! Thank you!

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Beth, hope your painting goes well.
Will

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Cheryl Hughes June 15, 2017

Thank you so much Will – love your easy to follow instructions and will give this a try. Kind regards, Cheryl.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Cheers Cheryl, great stuff, pleased you found the steps easy to follow.
Will

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Samia Karam June 15, 2017

Wow, lemon tree painting Will

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Yvonne Rozario June 15, 2017

Thanks Will!

As always – a pleasure to watch your development to the final painting.

You are very generous with your talent and absolutely encouraging.

Thanks much (from the other side of the pond)

Cheers,

Yvonne Rozario

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

My pleasure Yvonne, glad you enjoyed watching the painting develop.
Will

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Delores Haugland June 15, 2017

Hi Will,

So much enjoyed that…followed your every stroke to “finish”…I liked the idea of using a watercolor under sketch, and liked the way you set up the negative space, and so many other facets of this demonstration. No lemon trees in Edmonds, WA but there is a plant outside called Jerusalem sticky sage which looks like vertical pom poms in yellow….I might try it using your pallette! This was a much-needed inspiration! Love the cat..I think he needs a snack.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Delores, and so pleased you’ve been inspired to adapt the techniques to your own inspirations around you, hope the Jerusalem sticky sage goes well! The colours are very similar.
Will

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Liz June 15, 2017

Aloha, Will! I loved this demo! I plan to do this painting! I enjoyed the Venetian paintings very much and painted both of them! When will you go to Paris and prepare another tutorial for us? ~Liz

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Ha, ha, Vanessa loves Paris! really pleased you’ve been enjoying the Venice course, Liz.
Will

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parul mody June 15, 2017

Lovely painting ….very well explained…you are a good teacher…thanks for sharing

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks very much Parul.
Will

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Ann Crighton June 15, 2017

Many thanks Will. I have lemon trees in my garden in Cyprus and I have painted them many times but this turorial is exactly what I have been trying to achieve. I’ll try the technique on the clementine tree too. Thanks Ann

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

How lovely Ann, hope you can use the methods to capture them, clementine trees are fab to paint as well.
Will

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Bissa June 15, 2017

Loved it. Thank you for sharing

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Bissa

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Clare June 15, 2017

Thank you for that. Nice little tutorial.

If life gives you lemons, paint them

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Cheers Clare!

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Tricia June 15, 2017

I so enjoyed the lemon tree painting. Made me realise how important building up the layers is. I could almost smell the lemons them by the end of the demo. Definitely want to give this one a go. Thankyou.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Tricia, really pleased you felt transported to the lemon grove, good luck with your painting.
Will

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Julie Howe June 15, 2017

Thank you Will it was a joy to find in my email box this morning……

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

My pleasure Julie.

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Bob June 15, 2017

Hi Will,
thanks for sharing this post.
Must be great to be there and painting. Tough life but someone has to do it : )
Nice cat and sandals : )

All the best,
Bob

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Cheers Bob, yes a real privilege to paint there, hope you’re well.
Will

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Alastair June 15, 2017

Hello Will,

Lovely little study, including the custom palette/box you’ve made. Also a careful balancing act! Camera hanging round your neck? Luckily you’re not a heavy breather :-)

Cheers, Alastair

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Ha, ha, you’ve got it Alastair, in was very Zen in brush movements!

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Patsy June 15, 2017

Thank you so much Will. Once again a little masterpiece.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

You’re very kind Patsy, pleased you enjoyed it.
Will

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sophia michael June 15, 2017

Τhank you Will for sharing this great video. I will try it God bless you.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Hope it turns out well for you Sophia.
Will

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Cath June 15, 2017

Fabulous Will. I go to north of Majorca twice a year cycling, this year I took a sketchbook ! The smell of the oranges and lemons is glorious isn’t it, whereabouts on island were you ?

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Cath, we were near Calvia.
Will

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Jenny Santer June 15, 2017

Thank you Will for sharing a lovely tutorial once again. I have been hoping something would inspire me to pick up a paintbrush again, and this has done the trick.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

My pleasure Jenny, so pleased you enjoyed it and are feeling inspired with your paintings.
Cheers,
Will

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Emília June 15, 2017

Thank you Will Kemp.
Your canvas (?) are my incentive.

Sorry my poor english

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Emilia, much appreciated.
Will

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Rob June 15, 2017

Thanks, Will
How do you find working plein air with acrylics?

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Hi Rob, they can work great, especially for quick transportation of paintings.
Will

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Namrata June 15, 2017

Wonderful landscape and lovely art work Will! Always fascinated by your videos and paintings.

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Will Kemp June 15, 2017

Thanks Namrata, glad you liked the lesson.
Will

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Maria June 15, 2017

Thank you for yet another wonderful lesson! I love seeing the “fruits” of your labor, LOL :-)
Seriously though I really enjoyed the video and the step-out lesson. Not many people still do the step-out if they make a video and I just want to say thank you for your time and effort. I like to print the step-out and keep it in a binder for reference when I really like a painting lesson, so Thank you! You are always enjoyable to watch and listen to.
TFS! Big Hugs!!
Reeah.

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

Hi Maria, nice to hear from you, really pleased you found the steps and the video enjoyable, hope your paintings are going well.
Will

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Joe Pellerin June 15, 2017

Hi Will,

I really enjoy this lesson in plein air and how you showed the progression in finding the proper composition. Your painting lessons have made me a better artist.

Thanks again Will
Joe

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

That’s brilliant to hear Joe, really pleased you’ve been seeing progress in your own paintings.
Will

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Janie Chase June 16, 2017

Thanks Will for the lovely step-by-step. Very helpful and your results are always so inspiring! I’m going to try this for my next painting. Love the impasto on the lemons!

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

Thanks Janie, hope your lemon painting goes well, yes those little impasto touches can really help to tweak the focus in your paintings.
Cheers,
Will

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Ed de la Cruz June 16, 2017

Hi, Will. Really appreciate your generosity in sharing your knowledge. Thank you.
-Ed

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

My pleasure Ed, hope you’re well.
Will

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Martha P Lamkin June 16, 2017

Thank you, Will! This was a lovely “Mini-Vacation” for me this evening! Next to painting myself, I love to watch another good artist creating! It was a delightful little painting and one I can really enjoy doing myself in a short time. Your commentary is so pleasant and helpful! Thank you again.

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

Glad you’re feeling inspired Martha, thanks for your kind comments
Will

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Linda Wilson June 16, 2017

Hi Will,
I enjoyed watching this step by step paintining demo, I felt I lifted each brush and mixed the paint. Regards, Linda.

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

Hi Linda, well that’s fantastic to hear, pleased you felt part of the lemon grove.
Will

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Yulia June 16, 2017

Thanks, Will, for your tutorials. I have enjoined them so much and have been happy with the results. Great explanations!
I was wondering do u paint nudes? and do u plan to do the tutorial how to paint human body with acrylics?
another question, do u organise painting workshops?

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

Hi Yulia, I don’t currently run any live classes, but you might be interested in the how to paint skin tones with acrylics course that looks into developing a realistic skin tone palette using acrylics.
Cheers,
Will

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Philippa Granwal June 16, 2017

Thank you so much. Brilliant quality and utterly inspirational. I really appreciate the careful, methodical way you teach. So grateful!

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Will Kemp June 18, 2017

My pleasure Philippa, so glad you enjoyed the painting process.
Will

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Stefan June 16, 2017

Hi Will, really great tutorial about Plein-air painting. Did you use the more transparent Azo yellow to avoid the Cadmiums or for technical reasons. And what do you think about the Bismuth Vanadate yellow to use as a substitute, which has more opacity than the Azos?
Really enjoyed watching your new vid. Thanks for all the handy tips and detailed informations.
Cheers Stefan

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Will Kemp June 19, 2017

Hi Stefan, pleased you enjoyed the tutorial. The main reason I used azo yellow for that painting was it was the only yellow I happened to travel with on the trip. Bismuth Vanadate Yellow would also work well.
Cheers,
Will

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Marta Santa Ana June 16, 2017

Fantastic painting, as always…Thank you for sharing. And I have a suggestion for your next vacation: Madeira Island. You will be fascinated with the different greens of luxuriant foliages, the blues of sky and sea and the browns of the grounds.
Cheers
Marta

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Will Kemp June 19, 2017

Cheers Marta, sounds like some fantastic colours and scenery, really pleased you enjoyed the lesson.
Will

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Vivienne June 17, 2017

I have a lemon tree in my garden. Unfortunately possums have eaten the lemons. I will use this tutorial when i get some more on the tree..

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Will Kemp June 19, 2017

Good one Vivienne, hope you find it helpful when you’ve got some fresh supplies!

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Tamara Torres June 18, 2017

Thanks a lot Will. As always….WONDERFUL!

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Will Kemp June 19, 2017

Thanks very much Tamara, pleased you enjoyed it.
Will

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Elizabeth Tucker June 19, 2017

Thanks so much for this great demo. I especially liked the rejected possible painting subject sketches and the reason you felt they wouldn’t do. These preliminary sketches are so important and yet we often fail to do them and then end up with a painting that doesn’t match our original enthusiasm. Your showing the sketches and why they were not going to work in a painting really drove the point home in such a great way! Thank you!!! And thank you for your generous videos and instruction. I so appreciate them!

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Will Kemp June 19, 2017

My pleasure Elizabeth, really pleased you found the steps of what didn’t work helpful in seeing how the painting developed.
Cheers,
Will

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laurel June 22, 2017

Thank you Will.
Breaking the process down into steps with your commentary is so helpful and well done.
And you are providing this for free!! Most enjoyable.

laurel

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Will Kemp June 24, 2017

My pleasure Laurel, really pleased you enjoyed seeing the painting develop.
Cheers,
Will

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Marie June 23, 2017

Thank you for all you share with us! I can’t wait to try this!

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Will Kemp June 24, 2017

Hope you enjoy it Marie.
Will

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