A Painting with a Plan

I’m learning a lot about landscape oil painting, and consequently I’m doing a few things differently than in the past. I’m trying different brushes, working with different pigments, practicing new techniques, and most of all, I’m thinking about what I want to do, and how I want to do it.

I’ve worked with the idea of “intentional painting” before. What that meant to me in the past was having a greater awareness of what I wanted to say with the painting. Being intentional today means something much different. My awareness has shifted fromΒ what toΒ how, and I think this is a very important step.

My painting exercise today was another study in light temperature. My objective was to paint a scene that suggested early morning. After finding a reference photo, I sat down and began making decisions.

To start, I considered my object — the early morning light. I double-checked my notes and verified that early morning light tends to be somewhat warm. With that knowledge, I chose a canvas panel that was toned with a warm sienna hue. Hopefully this gives the painting an overall feeling of warmth.

I turned the canvas panel over and made a series of notes on the back.

  • Where is the focal point? No doubt about this one. There’s a beautiful place in the stream where the morning light makes the water shine.
  • What is the predominant color of the painting? For me, the blue was what I wanted to bring out. That led to another consideration.
  • How would I describe the color scheme I’ll be using? Another easy answer. Definitely this painting is based on complementary colors — blue and orange.
  • So, if I’m using blue yet I want to convey warm light, what would be a good choice? I decided to go with French Ultramarine. There’s debate about whether it’s truly warm or not, but I liked it. It felt right to me.
  • What other warm hues would I use? I added cadmium yellow deep and burnt sienna to my palette.
  • Now, what about all those cool shadows? I decided I could rely on Payne’s Gray, and mixes of Titanium White and Ivory Black to create cooler shadows.
  • And speaking of lights and shadows, what “key” would I be using? I opted for mid-range values. I seem to be most comfortable there.

With my plan clearly outlined, I quickly sketched in the basic shapes in the scene. I was then ready to start painting.

Where did I begin? My usual approach would be to start with the sky, but, as I said, I’m doing a few things differently these days. I wanted to clearly indicate the focal point of the painting, so that’s where I began. Now, I probably should have moved the focal point a little to the right or to the left. As it is, I have it almost directly in the center of the painting. Still, it seems to work. Maybe it would have looked better if I’d repositioned it, but I’m happy with how my focal point turned out.

Next, I considered where the dark shadows would be, and I painted them in with bold strokes, using my cooler colors. It felt weird, really, to just be dabbing paint on in what seemed like almost random places, but I knew there was a purpose in what I was doing.

Once I’d established the lights and darks, I moved on to painting the scene, working then on the sky, and adding the slightest touch of cadmium yellow deep. I continued painting, using my French Ultramarine for the stream, blending and softening the darker areas, and adding touches of Payne’s Gray to cool the color a bit.

I painted my rocks, loving the warm light touching the tops and the cooler shadows beneath. I stepped back to see where I needed deeper shadows along the creek edge, and I used combinations of cadmium yellow deep, burnt sienna, and Payne’s Gray to lay in the background, again cooling off the shadowed areas, and using the warmer colors in the foliage.

I mixed a bit of Payne’s Gray with cadmium yellow to come up with a grass color, then “tweaked” a bit with the individual colors to add warmth in places and coolness in others.

Finally, I re-emphasized my strong focal point, added directional brushstrokes to give more “flow” to the water, and I played around with adding little lights here and there.

The result:

For me, there are still things I don’t like — I never got the wooded area quite the way I wanted — but there are also things I love. I’m pleased with the painting, and I think that going into it with a definite plan helped me put it together in a way that almost works. I’m definitely getting closer to where I want to be.





  1. That is such a beautiful painting πŸ™‚ ! In my opinion, the early morning aspect that you wanted to get has come out amazingly! It’s a very nice way to plan the objective, focal point, colour scheme, light and shade and work systematically to achieve the desired output. It helps in maintaining the aesthetic look of the painting. I have learnt landscapes in oil, watercolours and acrylics (I don’t have much consistency, which I’m not glad about, I want to make new paintings). But, earlier, all I used to do was draw exactly as how it was in the reference picture (in fact, I had used the grid method for my first, and as of now, only only oil painting) and mixed colours exactly how I saw them without putting much thought into what I was doing. Now though, I’m learning how to analyze these things (colour scheme, light and shade, etc.) which, I believe, will help me a lot. Again, you have painted such a beautiful piece πŸ˜€ !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I’m still “feeling my way” as I learn more about color temperatures, time of day, the lights and shadows, and sometimes taking time to think things through really is helpful. I can’t always follow through on my plans as well as I like, but this time things sort of came together just as they were supposed to. I especially liked the colors. I’m so glad you like the painting too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your post reminds me of an old adage I created about artists
    when I was in high school years ago: *Different paint abstract ‘Brushes’ for different Artists*

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is nice and looks like a place my friends and I “discovered” last year in the Eastern Sierras in the Fall. I envy the possibility of so much planning. I get there, in the dark, set up, dial in the settings and wait for the day to arrive while freezing to death…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. Planning — aloud or on paper — helps me even though I can’t always follow my plan. I think most artists and photographers have probably reached a point where the process happens naturally, intuitively, without conscious thought.


    1. Thank you! Yes, when I come away with a painting that I really like, it does feel good. My learning experience is all “trial and error”, and sometimes it seems like it’s mostly error. Finishing a painting I like makes me feel good.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely been therapy for me in recent weeks. I’ll be sharing some of my “art as therapy” experiences in upcoming posts. πŸ™‚


  4. Congratulations on a lovely painting. Your planning paid off. Thank you for sharing your process as well. I find it interesting to read about artist’s approach and decisions during the creation process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Like you, I enjoy reading about the creative process behind a work. I guess that’s why I like to share a lot of my thoughts. πŸ™‚


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