Plein Air Impressionism

James McGrew
James McGrew
James McGrew Collector's Choice Award
James McGrew
James McGrew
James McGrew
James McGrew


Join James McGrew for a 2 1/2 day workshop directly following the 15th Annual Sedona Plein Air Festival! The final event of the Sedona Plein Air Festival is the Main Street paint-out on Saturday morning October 19th. James’ workshop begins at 3:00 pm for an evening session followed by two more days of painting and learning.

This unique workshop will focus on learning to see and interpret Sedona’s spectacular scenery and unique natural history.  James largely paints in his own style, influenced by his love and understanding of nature, and most closely identifies with the romantics and impressionists.  Learn about natural history, light, physics of atmosphere, geology, and human physiology of vision and aesthetics as they all relate to creating paintings which not only convey a visual representation of the uniquely beautiful Sedona landscape, but also convey the emotional impact of a first hand experience of painting on location.

One of the greatest struggles of landscape painters is to convey in small scale, the grandeur of a dramatic landscape.  Learn how to interpret such scenes and create illusions of depth, three dimensionality, scale with strategic details to make a scene come to life.  The workshop will cover: composition, design, color, as well as practices for traveling (from hiking/backpacking to flying) with materials while eliminating a dangerous impact on health and the environment.  Plein air painters from beginner to expert will discover new perspectives and ideas.

The workshop will include demonstrations, group hands on painting sessions, one on one assistance as well as discussion and critique.  James is an engaging speaker with extensive experience teaching and working as an interpretive naturalist with an ability to convey complex scientific concepts in an entertaining manner.

Artist’s Statement

“I strive to interpret nature with my brush, not just representing a visual scene, but more importantly, conveying the emotions I felt as influenced by the experience including weather and light, movement and energy.  I want the viewer to feel those elements and emotions.  I hope my works inspire others to love and protect our natural world and cherish our valuable human interrelationships with each other and the environment.”

James McGrew

James McGrew

James McGrew first backpacked in Yosemite at just four months old and subsequent family camping/backpacking trips inspired an early interest in art and nature as he was constantly drawing and painting.  He began using pastels at age 8 and his father’s oils at 10.  Today he is best known for his oil paintings interpreting western National Parks.  A strong background in natural sciences (degrees in biology, chemistry and geology and grad work for M.S. in Environmental Ed) help James understand his natural subjects as well as to carry on the tradition of 19th century artists whose images helped to establish the first national parks.   He also lends his art background to his work as a summer seasonal Yosemite ranger/naturalist as he has for the past 21 Summers. His primary objective in painting is to help inspire love and protection of our national parks and environment as a whole.

James prefers to paint direct from life and often works up to about 30×40 en plein air.  However, he creates his most refined and largest paintings in the studio from his plein air references. He hikes or backpacks several hundred miles a year, looking for unique perspectives and a deeper connection with nature.  He works to create paintings which not only visually portray a scene, but convey the emotions of the actual experience.  Although inspired by a combination of Romanticism and Impressionism, McGrew paints with a style that is largely self taught and uniquely his own.

McGrew’s paintings hang in collections around the world and have shown in numerous solo shows, national and international exhibitions and plein air invitationals, receiving many awards including best of show at Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, the Zion Foundation Award (top honor and commission for the painting used for all of the following year’s marketing of Zion Plein Air Invitational), and 5 consecutive People’s Choice Awards at Grand Canyon and 3 consecutive years at Zion.  He is an artist member of the California Art Club and a signature member of both the American Impressionist Society and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association.   His work has been featured in articles of Fine Art Connoisseur, Plein Air Magazine, Southwest Art, and Western Art Collector.  He has presented as a keynote speaker at numerous art and science conferences and presented on stage and as a field painter at Plein Air Convention, 2016, Tucson.  When teaching workshops, James interweaves art and science in an entertaining manner easy to understand and he has volunteered countless hours teaching art history in elementary through high schools.  He loves backpacking, paining and fly fishing with his family.

Artist’s Statement

“I strive to interpret nature with my brush, not just representing a visual scene, but more importantly, conveying the emotions I felt as influenced by the experience including weather and light, movement and energy.  I want the viewer to feel those elements and emotions.  I hope my works inspire others to love and protect our natural world and cherish our valuable human interrelationships with each other and the environment.”

Recent Exhibitions and Honors:

11/2018 People’s Choice Award and Purchase award, Zion Plein Air Art Invitational

10/2018 Solo Show, The Ansel Adams Gallery

10/2018 Collector’s Choice Award and Judge’s Choice, Sedona Plein Air

9/2018 Inaugural Yellowstone Plein Air Invitational

9/2018  10th Annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art

6/2018 California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition

1/2018 13th Annual ARC Salon finalist.

11/2017 Featured artist at Zion Plein Air Art Invitational

11/2017 People’s Choice Award at Zion Plein Air Art Invitational

11/2017 Group Exhibit, Beloved CA II, Holton Studio Gallery, Berkeley, CA.

10/2017 Solo Show, Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite, CA

10/2017 Seven Canyons Paint out Award at Sedona Plein Air.

10/2017 Laguna Plein Air Invitational

9/2017 People’s choice award and record auction price at 9th annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art

7/2017 Honorable Mention from Scott Jones and purchase award by Jackson Hole Airport; Plein Air for the Park/Grand Teton plein air.

2/2017 Honor Hawaii/Honor Maui award, Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational.

11-12/2016 Signature Impressions (LPAPA Signature Member exhibition), Huntington Beach, CA.

11-12/2016 “Beloved California” Group show at Holton Studio Gallery, Berkeley, CA.

11/2016 Zion Plein Air Invitational; Foundation Award (top honor) & People’s Choice Awd.

10/2016: Sedona Plein Air. Seven Canyons/Gamblin Award.

10/2016: Laguna Plein Air Painters Invitational

9/2016 Grand Canyon Celebration of Art; People’s Choice Award & highest record auction

8-10/2016 Hawaii National Parks Centennial Museum Exhibition, Maui, HI.

4/2016 Stage presenter and demo artist at 2016 Plein Air Convention, Tucson, AZ.

5-6/2016 Solo Show, Ansel Adams Gallery

6/2016 50×80 and 60×40 Commissions completed for the prestigeous Stoller Estate Winery

2/2016 Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational (Honor Hawaii/Honor Maui Award and Montage Kapalua Award).

2/2016 National Parks Centennial Exhibition, St. George Museum, UT.

2/2016 Yosemite Renaissance, Yosemite Museum, CA

10/2015 Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational (Higbee Award)

11/2015 Zion Plein Air Invitational (People’s Choice and 5 purchase awards)

10/2015 Howard Mandville Gallery Small Works Invitational

5/2015 Solo Show, James J. Rieser Fine Art, Carmel, CA

5/2015 CA Impressionism; Plein Air painting Past and Present exhibit with Irvine Museum, De Ru’s, HBAC, and Laguna Plein Air Painters Assoc. Huntington Beach, CA

9/2015 Grand Canyon Celebration of Art/Plein air (People’s Choice and highest Sales at Auction) 11/2015 Yosemite Impressions Group Exhibition. Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite, CA

2015 Oil Painters of America National Exhibition, St. Augustine, FL

11/2014 Zion Plein Air Invitational. Two purchase Awards.

10/2014. Sedona Plein Air Invitational. Merit Award (judge Jim McVicker).

10/2014 Laguna Plein Air Invitational.

10/2014 American Impressionist Society National Exhibit

9/2014 6th annual Grand Canyon Celebration of art. People’s Choice Award.

5/2014 Carmel Art Festival. People’s Choice Award and Honorable Mention.

12/2013 Legacy Gallery Small works invitational (sold out).

10/2013 Howard/Mandville Gallery Small works Invitational

9/2013 5th annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art. Best of Show & People’s Choice awards. Sold out show with record highest sales for event to date.

Full list dating back to James’ first solo show in 1999 available upon request.


Select Magazine Article Publications:

Feature Article by Steve Doherty in Plein Air Magazine (April/May 2016 digital edition)

Western Art Collector, December 2015

Today’s Masters Paint the Parks; article in Fine Art Connoisseur, July/Aug 2014

Southwest Art.  by Bonnie Gangelhoff. April 2014

Materials List:  These are the materials I use and therefore recommend to get the most out of the workshop.  However, you may bring whatever you feel most comfortable using.


Some sort of portable plein air painting easel/pochade with a sturdy, durable tripod or a French easel set up.  I use all of the following for different situations: Open Box M 12×16, 11×14, 10×12, 8×10 as well as a Strada.  The 11×14 Open Box M is probably most versatile and most used.  Expect to spend about $200+  for a tripod sturdy enough to  provide the stability and durability you need to travel and paint in the field. I use Gitzo carbon fiber tripods with Bogen Manfroto ball heads.  Although expensive, Gitzo tripods offer unmatched quality for their incredible durability, light weight, stability, speed and ease with set up/take down.  Each of my tripods is equipped with a Manfrotto tripod head with quick release plate.   Every camera and paint box has a matching manfrotto quick release plate for instant easy swapping of any box or camera between tripods.

Open Box M makes their pochade boxes by hand in the USA and provides a great selection of quality easel set ups and accessories:


  1. Graham walnut oil.

Gamblin Gamsol.  I do not recommend any other brand of mineral spirits since none are as highly refined and odorless.  You may omit solvent if you wish but I do use it to quickly lay in a painting and wash brushes when there is adequate ventilation.  Other natural solvents including oil of spike lavender, turpentine, and orange oil solvents may be used outdoors with adequate ventilation and disposal methods.  But be aware of toxicity in enclosed areas as well as smell if painting in places with bears or anyplace where food/smelly item storage is required to protect wildlife.

Stainless Steel sealable brush washing tank.

Paper towels (preferably 100% recycled)

Palette cups for oil/solvent.


I use only M. Graham oil colors.

Minimum Palette:

Titanium White

Pyrrol Red

Azo Orange

Azo Yellow

Bismuth Yellow

Manganese Blue Hue

Ultramarine Blue

Recommended additional colors that will make things easier:

Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide

Transparent Red Iron Oxide

Chrome Tin Yellow

Yellow Ochre

Burnt Sienna

Azo Green

Pthalo green

Permanent Alizarine Crimson or similar.

All of these are essentially non-toxic and possess the highest rating for lightfastness.  Therefore this palette is safer for you and the environment while collectors will appreciate the permanence. M. Graham uses California walnut oil as a vehicle binder and makes exceptionally densely pigmented paints that also exhibit excellent  working properties, lightfastness ratings, non yellowing, brilliant lustrous colors.  The paints are made in small batches in Oregon, with locally sourced materials and excellent attention to importance of protecting  the health of artists and the environment.  I have tried virtually every brand of high quality artists’ grade paint and found M. Graham to work best for my techniques.

Note: I have completely eliminated the use of lead, cadmiums and cobalt from my supply list.


Assortment of hog bristle or synthetic bristle flats,  filberts and rounds from #6-12.  I use  Trekkell made in USA and Utrecht Rhenish Hog Bristle made in Germany.  While old used brushes work for scrubbing, please be sure to have at least a handful of new brushes with you.

Rosemary and Co. Masters Choice and Eclipse Extra Long Combers in an assortment of middle sizes are excellent for delicate edge work.


About 6-10 Oil primed linen panels in sizes between about 6×8 and 12×16.  Larger sizes not recommended for students unless they are highly experienced painting en plein air.   I work primarily on oil primed linen mounted on board including Dibond, birch ply, hardboard, and gator board.

New Traditions Art Panels make exceptionally high quality panels with the greatest range of options.  Other excellent sources include Trekkell, Sourcetek, RayMar, Fredrix, Art Boards.  I also sometimes work on Multimedia Board, Dibond, birch ply, and hardboard that have been primed directly without any added linen texture.  You may use whatever you prefer.   I find that rough, irregular linen texture works great for textured landscapes while smoother linen texture or straight smooth panels work well for nocturnes and portrait work.

Panel Carriers:   I use PanelPak.


Hat, sunglasses (with neutral colored lenses), sunscreen, layers of clothing to handle anything between hot sunshine and cold rain.  Nylon convertible pants are ideal.  Dark, neutral colored clothing (black, navy, forest green, charcoal gray etc), will minimize reflections on your painting when facing into the sun.

Food/snacks, water and some electrolytes, salty food, sports drink, energy bars etc are always handy when hiking or painting long hours in the desert sunshine.

Backpack or shoulder bag that will carry all your gear including some panels, pochade/palette, tripod, oil, brushes, paper towels, food, clothing etc.  You can also affix clothing/jacket, tripod etc to the outside of a backpack.

Note: there are lots of ways an artist can save money on supplies and expenses.  However, I do not recommend skimping on paint, brushes or panels.  Buy the best quality of these materials and you will never regret it.

Additional supplies that are nice to have but not required:

Nitrile gloves  help keep things clean and are essential if you are using solvents and any heavy metals like cadmium, lead, cobalt etc.).

Camera and lenses with focal length ranging from about 24-70mm.  Ideally you should have a manual control full frame dSLR capable of shooting in RAW mode.   But a cell phone will also serve the absolute minimum to capture references, document your paintings etc.

Cancellation Policy

James McGrew  will contact students about locations and times.

Registration Information:

Each student must register individually.  Students may pay in full or choose the payment-plan option during registration. The payment plan requires a non-refundable $125 deposit with the balance due 30 days before the first day of the workshop. There are no refunds after the 30-day final payments have been made.  Students may enroll online or by calling the Sedona Arts Center’s Administrative Offices in the Art Barn toll-free at 888-954-4442 or locally at 928-282-3809.  Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express are accepted or student may pay with cash or check by registering in person during office hours at the Art Barn (M-F, 9-5).

Cancellation Policy:                                                                

The $125 deposit is non-refundable; the balance is due one month before the first day of the workshop. No refunds after the one-month cut-off date. If paying in full upon registration, $125 of the total tuition fee is non-refundable.  The Sedona Arts Center is not responsible for providing make-up sessions or issuing refunds, credits, or transfers for courses missed as a result of illness, emergencies, or other events beyond our control.  There are absolutely no refunds after the 30 day cut-off date for any reason, unless the Sedona Arts Center has to cancel the workshop, then all fees paid will be refunded in full.