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 from what to 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.
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.