When a Painting Speaks to Us

I’ve completed my “Skyglow” painting, and I’m very happy with it.

SkyGlow (2)
Morning Sky Glow

This is an instance where, unfortunately, the camera doesn’t do justice to the painting. It is truly stunning, if I do say so myself. In the photograph, the blending appears very streaky. When viewing the actual painting, the color transitions are much smoother.

The painting is not what I first imagined it would be. Originally I intended to make a tree line, perhaps even add a house or two in black silhouette. You may remember that I ran out of black paint, had ordered more, and was waiting for it to arrive. Well, guess what. The package was delayed.

Fortunately, however, fellow blogger and awesome artist Chris Ludke  clued me in to how to mix my own rich, vibrant black — equal parts of burnt umber and ultramarine blue. So, that’s what I did. I loved the warmth I was getting in the black, so I added a touch more burnt umber.

As I started to work on the painting, my focus shifted. Instead of seeing distant trees, I saw a grassy field, with tall weeds poking up here and there. Again, the photo doesn’t do it justice, but instead of a solid black silhouette, I knew the painting needed a bit more warmth. I used light touches of terra rosa in the foreground, and the painting began to sing. At first it was only a quiet little voice, but it soon became a clear, strong voice singing a song of celebration, a song of praise for the new day, a song of pure joy.

For me, this painting is quite a triumph, not for the mastery of any technical skills or even for the mixing of the colors. (Thanks again, Chris, for the instruction). My triumph is one of knowing, and for me this is very significant.

What do I mean by knowing?

I’ve listened to several online oil painting instructors who in their teaching have said that good painting is largely a matter of listening to what a painting is saying. Step back, take a look, and see where the next brushstroke should go. Observe what’s happening and see what color the painting needs.

All excellent advice, I’m sure — for more experienced artists or for more intuitive artists. My paintings don’t speak to me. They don’t tell me what they need, and even with three years of painting experience now behind me, I’m still not able to look at a painting and know what it needs.

Until now. With this painting, I clearly heard its voice. I loved how it whispered for a touch of rose here, a little light there, please, and no, don’t touch that tall, overgrown stalk that’s reaching for the light.

So, in the end, I have a painting much different from the one I had in my head when I began. I love it. It’s gorgeous. I just wish you could really see it.


  1. I totally get the difficulty with taking a photo that truly captures everything that’s going on in a painting accurately. It’s nigh on impossible, so you don’t need to feel like that’s a failing. I’m so happy that you were able to “communicate” with your painting and let it tell you exactly what it needs. And it only took 3 years! It’s taken me more like 30 years, so congratulations! Be aware that paintings will take their time about communicating their needs, so you don’t have to know instantly what to do. I find that letting something sit overnight, or even a few days, when I feel “stuck” will somehow let the message magically get through.

    Liked by 2 people

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