Painting Technique - Planning the Painting


Planning the painting before you touch the canvas is a critical first step to a successful piece of art. My other artistic joy is photography, so I therefore start with a reference photo and begin to plan how I can capture the same scene in a unique and creative way. The last thing I want to do it replicate the photo!

Here is the main reference photo for my current work, inspired from a Thanksgiving holiday trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


The scene is just west of DeTour Village on Lake Huron. It was a blustery cold day! My next step was to define WHAT in this scene will help convey a "breathtaking" landscape painting. "Breathtaking" is a key criteria in my recently-honed painting "style" (more on "style" in an upcoming blog).

I decided that the sky will be a key feature, I wanted to convey the chaos, blustery atmosphere, and remoteness (imagine sitting in a small boat out there that day, not for me)! I chose the variety of rocks as a secondary focus.

First task is to sketch the scene and the basic blocks of land (and water) mass.


My next step is to define the values (lights and darks) of the scene. In the sketch below, I emphasize the direction of the sunlight rays emanating from the clouds, and also note how I would like the sunlight to bounce off the tops of the large boulders.

I note the value ranges (dark is 1-3, notice the 2-3 noted in the treeline as it is among the darkest of values in the landscape. The sky is light (except for the foreboding clouds), so lighter 9-10 value is appropriate, especially for the diagonal rays of light, with the water being a bit darker (8-9 value range). The rocks and sandy beach vary from 3-6. See below for a typical value-finder, with #1 being black and #10 white.


Here's the value finder showing the numbered areas of lights and darks:


After defining the values, it's time to select the palette. Two palette's are shown below. The first will be used for the sky, and the second palette for the water, ground, tree line and rocks.

Palette for the sky: a variety of blues, purples and grays, with hints of pink and various lights.


Palette for the water, ground, tree line and rocks.


With every painting I start, I take notes based on observing its progress. A digital photo of the painting helps in reviewing progress while at a computer, far away from the easel. I typically do not create notes early on until I have completed a little more detail than the basics of laying in the underpainting and masses of value and color. At that point I can begin refining the details and the atmospheric effects I want to convey.

Here is a typical painting progress review list:


After making the changes suggested in the list, I do another list and typically the number of items on that list shrink until the painting is completed.

Here is the current version of the work in progress. I plan to purposely minimize the level of detail in the lower edges of the canvas and enhance the sharpness and lighting on the boulders in the center. Additional touches to the sky and water will follow.


Check back to this blog for the final version!

#Michigan #LakeHuron

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