In this post, I walk you through my painting of the stunning Honeymoon Bay in Tasmania. This is a large-scale painting done on a 24×30 inch canvas in oils. I’ll cover:
- Reference Photo and Analysis
- It All Starts with a Blank Canvas
- Blocking in the Major Color Shapes
- Refining and Building up Form
- Adding Highlights, Accents and Finer Details
- Signing the Finished Painting
- Key Takeaways
- Want to Learn More?
- Thanks for Reading!
Reference Photo and Analysis
Below is the reference photo I painted from. It was taken under the bright, midday sun. The water was a beautiful mix of blues and greens, crashing against the rich orange rocks.
Here were some of the things I considered before I picked up my brush:
- There is a nice curve created by the edge of the water which I would need to pick up in the painting.
- There is a pleasing contrast of blues against oranges (complementary colors).
- The mountains could be used to create a strong sense of depth.
- The sky appears a bit lacking, so adjustments might be necessary.
- Broken color would be useful for painting the choppy water.
It All Starts with a Blank Canvas
Every painting starts the same way – a blank canvas sitting on my easel. From the moment I put down the first strokes of color, it starts to take on its own form.
Tip: If you do not intend on framing your canvas and you do not want to paint around the edges, then wrap the edges with craft tape. Once you have finished the painting, you can remove the tape to reveal a clean, professional-looking edge. You can see this in the photo later in the post.
I apply burnt umber straight from a tube to the canvas.
I then use solvent plus a paper towel to wipe it over the surface. Because I am painting a landscape, I am not worried about making the surface smooth and even. A rough, broken surface adds to the appeal of the painting.
I then carved out some of the basic shapes in the wet paint using a clean paper towel dabbed in some solvent.
Blocking in the Major Color Shapes
After allowing the stained canvas to dry for about 30 minutes, I proceeded to block in some of the major color shapes. My goal with this stage of the painting was to capture my initial impression of the subject as quickly as possible before I started to get bogged down with the smaller details. My brushwork was rapid and my color selections were based mostly on instinct.
I started with the oranges and reds for the rocks and parts of the mountain.
I then moved into the blues, greens and purples. The photo below gives you a glimpse of how rough my brushwork was to begin with.
I gradually filled the canvas with color, leaving the sky until last.
After painting in the sky, the whole canvas was filled with color. Notice how I made some adjustments to the composition by cropping out some of the blue sky out of the reference photo at the top and enlarging the cloud on the right.
Below is a photo of the taped edges I mentioned at the start of this post.
(See the supplies page for details about what I use and recommend.)
Refining and Building up Form
With all the major color shapes in place, I go around the painting and refine the forms. Because I started the painting using mostly instinct, there are of course some errors which needed to be fixed or at least cleaned up.
Below is a look at my set-up. Here are some things to note:
- The paper towel is the unsung hero of my painting supplies. I keep a roll handy at all times.
- I also have a cleaning sponge next to the paper towel on the ledge of my easel. I find this handy for wiping any excess solvent or paint from my brush between strokes.
- My palette and any other supplies are on a home-made desk which I can move around the studio (you can see part of it on the left of the photo).
Here is a look at the mess of color on my palette.
Adding Highlights, Accents and Finer Details
The final stages of the painting involve adding highlights, dark or colorful accents and any of the finer details.
During this stage, I spent most of the time trying to inject light into the painting (so to speak) and getting everything to work together. If you were a fly on the wall of my studio watching me paint, you would see me constantly stepping back and viewing the painting from different perspectives. I do not spend much time looking at the painting up close.
I am careful not to tunnel-vision the smaller details and lose sight of the big picture. This is always a risk during the later stages of the painting when I am using smaller brushes and adding the final (and often tedious) details.
I spent a lot of time working on the water, as I really wanted to pick up the choppy mix of blues and greens. I worked my brush around the wet paint, trying to reiterate the ebbs and flows of the water.
I gradually built up layers of broken color in the water, drawing inspiration from many of the great Impressionists. I also made several changes to the mountains and sky to make sure they fit in with the rest of the painting.
Signing the Finished Painting
Whenever I think a painting is finished, I do not sign it immediately; I leave it on the easel for a couple of days. When I walk past the painting, I tend to pick up small annoyances which I change on the spot. I consider the painting complete when I am able to walk past without feeling the need to change anything.
This painting sat on my easel for a good two days until I felt it was complete. I signed the painting in the bottom left corner with a dark orange.
All up this painting took about a week, spaced out over numerous sessions.
Below are some detail shots of the painting (taken on a different camera, so the colors appear slightly different from the photo above).
- You will encounter some difficulties of scale when working on larger pieces. First, it can be a challenge to capture your initial impression of the subject because there is so much surface to cover. As Joaquín Sorolla once said:
“The great difficulty with large canvases is that they should by right be painted as fast as a sketch. By speed only can you gain an appearance of fleeting effect. But to paint a three yard canvas with the same dispatch as one of ten inches is well-nigh impossible.”
- The second difficulty occurs if you are painting alla prima (wet on wet), you may not be able to finish the painting in a single session and therefore some of the paint may dry between sessions. This means you may need to paint both wet on wet and wet on dry. If you are not careful, your painting may look incoherent due to the different techniques used.
- One of the biggest challenges in painting is getting everything to fit together. Painting the perfect mountain, or the perfect wave in the ocean is pointless if they don’t fit. In this painting, I made several adjustments to the sky and mountains to make sure they fit in with everything else.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust the composition as I did with the cloud and sky in this painting.
Want to Learn More?
You might be interested in my Painting Academy course. I’ll walk you through the time-tested fundamentals of painting. It’s perfect for absolute beginner to intermediate painters.
Thanks for Reading!
I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and I hope you found it helpful. Feel free to share it with friends.
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