Here is a quick study I just pulled from the easel - Overcast Day In Queenstown. Even on an overcast day, New Zealand provides for beautiful painting inspiration.
In this painting I wanted to capture the general dreariness of the scene. I also wanted to portray the town in the distance with as little detail as possible, without it losing meaning (something the Russian impressionists are masters of).
I started by staining the canvas with a wash of solvent and paint. This kills any white on the canvas (which can be difficult to paint on top of).
I used the stain as an opportunity to map out some of the general structure and color harmonies of the painting.
After letting the stain sit for about 15 minutes (so that it was not too wet to paint on), I started building up more detail. I started with the darks to make sure there was a strong foundation in place. Then, only once the darks were in place could I place down the highlights. I had to earn the highlights.
To finish the painting I actually pulled out my largest brush to try and create more harmony throughout the painting. I also added some stronger yellows and reds to the trees. I wanted the downward brushwork of the trees to contrast against the very horizontal brushwork in the rest of the painting.
In the distance, I wanted the town (being Queenstown) to just peak through the foreground. There is a hint of red, white and blue to indicate the buildings, boats and other structures. I did not want to use much detail for this area in order for it to fit in with the rest of the painting.
TIP: A simple way of creating the illusion of activity is to paint with a number of different colors on your brush (which will naturally occur if you don't completely mix your colors on your palette). Then, with a single bold stroke, you can create these brilliant effects which mimic areas of heightened activity.
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PS. If you have not already, be sure to join the Free Online Painting Course. You can also find more advanced tips in my ebook, 21 Easy Ways To Improve Your Paintings and reference photos in my Reference Photo Library.