Welcome to lesson 3 of the Painting the Landscape workshop.
Painting the subject is all about bringing your ideas to life. It’s not about copying.
Copying is fine for learning about technique. For example, if you want to learn about the techniques I use, one of the best ways to do that is to copy my approach. But, to truly challenge yourself, focus on painting your ideas and the way you see and experience the world. This is what makes art so interesting! It’s why several artists could paint the same subject but come up with completely different artworks.
Anyway, here’s how the painting turned out:
I painted this over several sessions and I estimate it took two to three painting hours, not including time spent pondering in front of the easel. However, this is just a wild guess as I lose any reasonable sense of time when I’m “in the zone”. (On a separate note, that’s how you know you’ve got something worth doing: if time ceases to have meaning as you do it.)
There were three key steps to this painting: sketch, color block-in, and refine. I use these steps to simplify and communicate my process, but in practice, it’s much more fluid. I look at the reference photo, I look at the painting, and I make decisions on what the painting needs. I do this over and over again until the painting is finished. This is an important point. Being able to follow broad steps won’t get you very far. Being able to make good decisions based on what’s in front of you will. I like to think of a painting as being the sum of many small decisions. The better those decisions, the better the painting.
The following is a more detailed explanation of how I went about this painting.
Step 1: Rough Sketch
I start with a rough sketch to map out major shapes and contours and to get a feel for the overall composition. I also use diagonal lines to indicate the dark shapes. All up, this only took a few minutes.
Even with a rough sketch like this, it’s important to be accurate. Small mistakes made at the start of a painting can compound into critical mistakes later.
Pay no significance to the color I use for the sketch. I typically grab whatever is convenient. However, I do avoid vivid colors, such as cadmium red, as they can be problematic to paint over.
Step 2: Color Block-in
With the sketch in place, I start blocking in the general colors. I work fast and focus on the big, simple color shapes. This is all about setting the foundation for the rest of the painting. What I want is an honest representation of the subject with no frills or nuances. It’s also essential that the foundation is right before I proceed to the next step.
I work fast so that I can get as much of the painting done wet on wet as possible. Wet on wet gives a natural and effortless appearance if done well. I also like to be driven by intuition and my first impressions of the subject at the start of a painting, when it’s easier to change direction and recover from mistakes. I tend to be more calculated towards the end of a painting.
If all goes well, the color block-in doesn’t take long for a simple subject like this. I believe this took 20 to 30 minutes. For future workshops, I’ll film the painting to show you what I mean. You can also see footage from other paintings here.
Step 3: Refine
For the third and final step, I refine the painting and add the subtle nuances and details. This step takes the most time. I typically spend around 80% of my time on the final 20% of the painting.
The goal of this step is to give the painting a finished appearance and to make all the parts work together as a whole. In practice, I narrow in on a particular section and work on it until near finish, then I move on to the next section. I work around the painting until I see no more work to be done. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The main challenge is that, when I change one section, I also change the relationships it has with all the other sections. For example, if I change the background, I also change the relationship between the background and the focal point. This means I must constantly jump around the different sections until I’m satisfied with the parts and the relationships between the parts. This really is the most challenging aspect of painting in my opinion.
For this reason, it’s difficult to walk you through the specifics of this step. There’s just so much tinkering and back and forth between the sections. But I’ll show you some notable points.
I start with the flowers and greenery in the foreground and on the feature plant. The flowers are the big idea of this painting, so it’s important that I get them right. I use impasto brushwork and broken color to suggest detail and activity without having to painstakingly render every detail.
For the trees in the background, I add detail and interest without drawing too much attention. This is surprisingly difficult to do. As you paint a certain area, there’s always a natural urge to hone in on the detail. But this can be counterproductive for background areas that are there to provide context, atmosphere, and contrast for the focal point.
Finally, I add intricate branches at the top. I left this until the end as it’s easier to paint intricate details wet on dry. I also wanted to be completely satisfied with the sky and trees before painting the branches over the top, as it would be finicky to make changes to these areas after.
Tip: When coming up with a strategy for a painting, you should consider the order in which you will paint the different sections. Take into account any overlap between the sections and challenges you might encounter in terms of brushwork and color.
When Is the Painting Finished?
One of the most challenging decisions to make during the painting process is deciding when to put the brush down and call it finished.
I call a painting finished when it looks right and I see no more ways to improve it. I might also leave the painting on the easel or somewhere in plain sight for a few days. If I don’t see anything in the painting that annoys me, that’s usually a good sign it’s done.
I rarely return to a painting once I have deemed it finished. I might spot mistakes or ways to improve the painting later down the track, but I prefer to move on to the next painting than constantly rework the old.
Sign and Photograph
Once I finish a painting, I sign and photograph it.
I vary the color and position of my signature based on the painting. I want the signature to be distinct, but not overstated. In terms of the position, I consider the overall balance of the painting. If the painting is heavy or more active on one side, I might sign on the other side to balance it out. I also prefer to sign on “quiet” areas without impasto texture.
For this painting, I sign using magenta (a dark, cool red) in the bottom right-hand corner. It’s distinct, but not overstated. And it doesn’t look out of place in the painting.
Photographing the painting warrants a separate lesson, but here’s a brief overview of my process:
- I photograph the painting in my studio as this allows me to produce consistent results. Photographing outside on an overcast day is also an option, but the results vary day by day.
- The light is the most important factor to get right. I use Neewer studio lights (Amazon link). They are adjustable in both brightness and temperature. They are also surprisingly affordable for what you get.
- I take photos in RAW format. This gives me more options in post-processing.
- I transfer the photos to my computer and edit them in Photoshop. I focus mostly on getting the exposure and temperature right. The goal is for the photo to be an honest representation of the real thing.
Here’s the finished painting again. Keep in mind, the camera I use for photographing the finished painting is different from the one I use to take progress shots. That explains the slight differences in color.
Paint the reference photo. You can either use the strategy you came up with in lesson 2 or follow my approach. I’d love to see how you go. You can send a photo of the finished painting to email@example.com.
(For future workshops, I’ll get you to paint the subject before I reveal my own painting. This way, you’ll be able to paint without my ideas tarnishing yours.)
Thanks for reading! The next lesson will be about self-reflection. Most people skip this part, but it’s essential for improving over the long term.
Draw Paint Academy
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