Plein air painter
Figure painter

Text of pleinair magazine article




Allen Kriegshauser

Push Values and Raise Chroma Levels for Greater Impact

This Missouri artist attracts the attention of collectors, students, and festival jurors by exaggerating value and color levels while being mindful of his compositional design.

Sometime during the process of learning how to paint directly from nature, plein air artists stop focusing on exactly what they DO see and paint what the WANT to see. That is, they become confident enough in their skills and understanding of the creative process to change the shapes, colors, values, and placement of elements they observe to make better compositions and to express something very personal. 

For Missouri artist Allen Kriegshauser, one of the best ways to offer a fresh look at the landscape is to simplify the composition and use strong color relationships that go beyond nature. After blocking in the big shapes with dioxazine purple, Kriegshauser uses thick strokes of bright cadmiums, phthalocyanines, ultramarine blue, and other pigments to build up the surface of his painting. “I raise the color bar by mixing and test driving different color combinations, pushing values, and raising the chroma levels,” the artist explains. “As I become more confident in my color choices, I avoid thinning the paint as much as possible using only a standard oil painting medium when necessary. This layering gives me a relatively stable dry base over which to add more colors.”

To get the plein air painting process started, Kriegshauser tints his panels with thinned Indian yellow, cadmium orange, or titanium white and then uses the dioxazine purple to establish an arrangement of big shapes and shadows. “I thin the dioxazine purple with a minimal amount of mineral spirits until the paint flows easily yet retains as much opacity as possible.,” the artist explains. “I compare the consistency of this mix to that of a black Magic Marker (thin but opaque).  I then load a 1 ½” long chiseled, soft, synthetic brush with the purple mix and start my value study. I work quickly, painting directly on my birch panel, blocking in the darkest darks and mapping out the large foundational shapes.  I continue to thin the paint as the values lighten.  Within five minutes, I usually have a value study that sets the pattern for the light and dark values in the final painting.  Unless I find preferable lighting patterns later, I stick with this initial value study and do my best not to chase the changing patterns light.

“This process also starts to build a rich patina of brush strokes and textures I will try to maintain throughout the balance of the painting,” Kriegshauser says.“I quickly get a base of value patterns and mark the ‘sweet spot,’ or the center of interest. I make a lot of adjustments by adding or subtracting paint but once I am satisfied with a value pattern, I stick to it throughout the painting process.”

In most cases, Kriegshauser picks three colors to build up the surface of his panel, ones that marks the darkest and lightest values and another that allows him to balance warm and cool temperatures. The primary colors on his palette include cadmium red medium (Rembrandt), cadmium yellow light (Winton  Newton), ultramarine blue, and titanium white (W&N or Utrecht). His secondary palette that include high-chroma pigments includes dioxazine purple (W&N), cerulean blue (W&N), cadmium lemon yellow (W&N), phthalocyanine green (Daler Rowney), cadmium red light pure (Utrecht), alizarin crimson, ivory black, cadmium orange, transparent red oxide, phthalocyanine turquoise (W&N), and yellow green (Utrecht). He modifies those oil colors with a standard oil medium made from 1/3 damar varnish, 1/3 turpentine, and 1/3 linseed oil. 

Kriegshauser likes to paint on a relatively smooth surface that facilitates a fluid application of paint. “I make the panels with birch plywood that I seal with several coats of acrylic gesso. Then seal with -a water thinned acrylic paint,” the artist says. “I don’t want there to be too much tooth to the surface because I want the brush to flow easily, and I want to easily wipe off layers of paint and still keep the colors clean.” Most of Kriegshauser’s plein air paintings are 9” x 12,” 11” x 14” or 16” x 20”. “I have fun with the 9” x 12” panels because I can complete a painting that size in a relatively short amount of time,” he explains. “But there is pressure to work much larger then that when I am participating in a competitive festival so I  have been increasing  the size of my outdoor work.”

When he is operating out of his St. Louis studio, Kriegshauser goes to some of his favorite rural locations to paint; but when he travels to plein air events and is not familiar with the scenery, he arrives early enough to scout out potential painting sites. “Plein air is about being portable and efficient so I don’t want to waste time driving around in hopes of finding the ‘perfect’ spot,’” he says. “If the colors are right and the shadow pattern is interesting, I’m good to go. Fortunately, some of the festivals give out maps and photographs of potential painting locations and that makes it easier to find sites in an unfamiliar area that will offer me what inspires me.”

bio: Allen Kriegshauser sudied art the University of Missouri and the Kansas City Art Institute and, after graduating, began his professional art career in St. Louis. He moved to Chicago and had a number of jobs in the fields of insurance, computer software, and publishing before establishing himself as an executive in the marketing departments of publishing companies. Those jobs gave him the opportunity to travel extensively, and he always took a portable watercolor set with him to make small sketches on an Arches watercolor block. 

Kriegshauser shifted his focus to plein air painting about 15 years ago and joined a number of gifted outdoor painters associated with the Augusta Plein Air Festival, an event that takes place in August in Augusta County, Missouri that is now in its 15th year. The artist is now fully retired from the publishing business and participates in number of juried plein air festivals and area paint outs. 

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STEP 1: [image: 1 & 2]

I thin the dioxazine purple with minimal amounts of mineral spirits to create a quick value study establishing my darkest values first and map out the large foundation shapes.  I continue to thin the paint as the values lighten.  Within five minutes I usually have a value study that sets the pattern for the light and dark values in the final paintin

Image 2


Image 3


STEP 2: [images: 3]

Using a paper towel, dry brushes and a proportional divider, I will make corrections to the composition and any drawing issues such as: placement, scaling and perspective. These corrections are easily made on this semi-slick surface created by the acrylic was

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STEP 3: [Image: 4]

Now I’m ready to mix and apply colors that reinforce the values in the values study. By this time the dioxazine purple used for the value study is relatively dry and will accept the next layer of paint with limited bleed through.

I identify and mix 3 key colors: one for my darks, one for my mid-tones and one for the lightest values. I also try to establish the range of warm to cool colors with these 3 mixes. Keeping with a relatively thin yet opaque mixes, I will quickly introduce all 3 initial color mixes into the painting. Since everything is relative, I can now better evaluate how my initial choices are working together.

image 5


STEP 4: [image 5 & 6] I will continue to raise the color bar by mixing and test driving different color combinations, pushing values and raising the chroma levels. At this stageI will avoid thinning my paint as much as possible using only medium when necessary. This layer gives me a relative stable dry base to layer more colors.

As I layer more paint I will introduce medium and will continue to use a variety of soft, synthetic brushes to apply paint. The combination of soft brushes, medium and soft brush stroke will allow me to work wet-on-wet and apply clean layers of color without dredging up unwanted color.

Image 6