(My "On the Easel" posts give you a behind-the-scenes look at what I am working on, what went well, what went wrong, and things I learn).
I've been in a creative rut until recently, as you may have noticed from my lack of activity. And I don’t just mean painting and drawing. Anything requiring even a sliver of creativity has been a struggle.
When this happens, I like to go back to what I know and enjoy—in this case, painting the sunset. I scrolled through my recent photos and picked a pleasant sunset to paint.
Above is the finished painting. I think it turned out alright, and more importantly, it broke my creative rut.
Here's is the reference photo, taken at Caloundra, Queensland just before I hit the water with my kayak and a few fishing rods. You can download the photo here. Feel free to paint it for yourself.
- Oil on stretched canvas. 14 x 18 inches.
- Main colors: Ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, cadmium yellow deep, and titanium white.
Refer to my supplies list for more details on what I use.
- Activity leads to creativity and inspiration. Sometimes you just need to get on with it and start painting, anything, even if it’s just random marks on the canvas.
- I started fast, worked carefully through the middle, and finished fast. The idea behind this is: the fast start allows me to capture my first impressions; the careful middle injects structure, form, and realism; and the fast finish makes it look like it was all effortless.
- I aimed to finish the painting with the paint still wet. If the paint dries midway through, it can be a challenge to retain a look of spontaneity and consistency.
- I struggled with the boat. If I painted it with too much detail, it didn't fit with the rest of the painting's loose style. If I painted it with too little detail, it didn't look like a boat. Getting it right took several attempts.
- The sunset colors are a little richer and darker, and the darks are a deeper purple than the reference photo. But it seems to work as a whole.
Tip: Be careful about blindly copying the reference photo. As soon as you make a mark on the canvas, your painting takes on a life of its own, separate from the reference photo. And your goal as an artist is to create a beautiful painting, not an accurate copy of a photo.
- Whilst painting the sunset, I had to navigate a fine line between making a powerful statement and overdoing it with garish color.
- On the first day of painting, I was about to wrap up the session and start again the next morning, but something about the painting didn’t sit right with me. It looked off—like a puzzle I didn’t know how to solve. I decided to stay up another hour that night, until I was able to see at least a glimmer of the painting’s finish line. Sometimes this works and I sleep easy, and sometimes it means a grumpy end to the day and another painting too far gone to be recovered. Whatever the case, I think it’s worth taking the risk.
- Chontele wandered into the studio at that inevitable stage in the painting process when it looks wrong, even if it’s on the right track. I don’t mind Chontele seeing the painting like this, as she understands that all paintings look wrong at some point, and therefore holds judgment until later. But, I’m timid about letting others see my work before it’s ready. There’s rarely anything to gain from public opinion during a painting, but there’s much to lose.
- Between sessions, I used my progress photos to ponder my next moves. You don't always need to be at the canvas with brush in hand to get meaningful work done.