“To Be Framed”

Following my recent oil study of the Alberta Landscape, I moved ahead with the project. The next step according to instructor Doug Swinton was to use the study as a road-map and create a larger painting from it. The oil study, you’ll recall, was “not meant to be framed”. It was simply a study, a guide to shapes, colors, and values.

My study was made on an 8 x 10 canvas panel. The suggested size for the “studio painting” — which is meant to be framed — was 16 x 20, twice as large. I didn’t have any 16 x 20 canvases, so I opted for a 12 x 16. This is one of my favorite canvas sizes, so I always have a good supply.

First, here’s the study.

I was pleased with it. As far as quick studies go, I thought it turned out fairly well. It was easy because I wasn’t trying to create a finished work of art. Again, this was “not to be framed”.

The idea of creating a larger, more “finished” version of the scene was slightly intimidating, but I resolved to do my best.

I studied all my notes — meaning both the original pencil sketch and the oil study. I then used a piece of vine charcoal to re-draw the scene on the larger canvas panel. A good trick I learned from Doug Swinton was to then use a quick spray of varnish over the charcoal. It keeps the charcoal in place and prevents it from mixing with the paint. This was helpful information! I’ve often used charcoal to “rough-in” a landscape scene, and I did have problems with the charcoal mixing into the paint.

Here’s how my initial sketch looked.

Next, I made an “underwash”, using thinned paints to lay in a few values.

My charcoal sketch wasn’t exactly the same in all respects as my original graphite drawing, nor did it follow the exact image in my oil study. That was fine with me. Art is a creative process, and as I began painting I made a few additional changes, adjusting the values in places, reshaping different elements.

Here is my finished “ready to be framed” painting.

Alberta Landscape — Oil on Canvas Panel 12 x 16

I have mixed feelings about the painting. I enjoyed following along with the process Doug Swinton used, although I have to admit, once I’d completed the underwash as he suggested, I struck out on my own. I turned off the Artists Network video and painted however I wanted.

In the end, my painting was much different from that in the demo, but I’ve learned — finally — that there is no “right” or “wrong” in landscape painting styles. Doug Swinton has his style; it works for him. I’m beginning to find my style; it’s starting to work for me.

That said, I’m not ecstatic about this painting. It’s interesting, and I think it shows some progress toward getting a better range of values. Yet it falls short in many ways. It doesn’t have a strong focal point, and I’ve made a few of my usual mistakes:

  1. Not using enough paint
  2. Not getting the right consistency with my paint
  3. Not knowing what to do in the foreground
  4. Not getting definite lights and shadows

Actually, I’m not sure that this painting really is finished and ready to frame. I’m setting it aside for a few days, and then I’ll come back to it. Can I add more lights and shadows? Can I create a more “finished feeling” for the foreground? Are there any additional “tweaks” I could make?

Going through this process — graphite sketch, oil study, charcoal sketch, underwash, painting — was helpful for me. I’ll take this knowledge and work it into my own painting process, using what works for me, and putting aside things that don’t seem to work so well.

And, at the end of the day, this painting is cause for celebration. That’s my word for the year, you know, and each day I’ll be finding reason to celebrate my art. I’m celebrating my willingness to try different approaches, to learn from them, yet all the while understanding that it’s up to me to develop my own process. I’m celebrating my awareness that my vision of the Alberta landscape was different from Doug Swinton’s completed painting. Yes, of course it was! That’s how it should be, and I’m truly celebrating the beginnings of my own style.


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