Monday, August 1, 2011

Step by Step

Here is a plein air painting I did for the San Clemente show last month (“Sea Moments” 9x12). After a request from Plein Air Magazine to do a step by step sequence of my painting process, I chose this pier and wave scene while I was competing in the competition. This painting and a feature article on me will be in the fall issue of Plein Air.

When painting the ocean, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, it’s important for me to “select” a moment in time that piques my interest the most. I always enjoy the wave mid-break—you get some of the white foam along with the water lights and shadows created by the cresting wave. Once I’ve selected a spot to paint, I sit and watch many sets roll in to determine the best layout of the wave. So, here is the sequence from start to finish:

Step 1
This is the overall scene before I began, with one of the waves breaking.

Step 2
My initial sketch of the scene. A rough idea of shapes and where I want to put elements.

Step 3
A block in of the darkest part of the painting. Simplifying the underside of the pier.

Step 4
Roughed in the top part of the pier and the small structures at the end.

Step 5
Getting the correct color and value for the darkest part of the ocean and shadow of the cresting wave.

Step 6
Laying in the distant water and where it peeks through the underside of the pier.

Step 7
Finding the color notes in the white wash area of the wave.

Step 8
More work in the foam area.

Step 9
More on the foam, and adjusting the values where it goes into the slight shadow casted from the pier. Also, small color and value nuances are added into the whites.

Step 10
I had left some white canvas where the foam would appear in the foreground water. I’ve painted in those lighter areas in this step. The final details in the wave foam were completed.

Step 11
The sky was dropped in next, plus the beginnings of the small wave in the foreground.

Step 12
The wet sand of the foreground is added. I kept the color intense to give it a feeling of closeness to the viewer.

Step 13
More details were added in the small foreground wave.

Step 14
Fixed the “air holes” and adjusted the edges where the sky and water peek through the pier.

Step 15
Details on the top of the pier were painted in next. The light posts add a nice vertical to break up the sky. The underside of the pier subtleties were finished too.

Step 16
More details in the foreground wave and wet sand. The little dark shadow areas under the wave gave it more dimension.

Step 17
The last of the details were added in the water and this was the final.

Step 18
The final painting and overall scene. If you wish to view this sequence in a slide show click below. Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011


Well, it’s been awhile, but here is a recent painting I completed from the Callaway Gardens plein air show last month out in Georgia. This 9x12 scene, “Along the Path” depicts one of their walking trails through the gardens of blooming azaleas. The color splash was a welcome sight amongst the invasion of Spring greens.

These very complex scenes provide an enjoyable challenge to plein air painting. The dappled light is constantly moving and colors can shift rapidly. With the maze of bushes and trees, It becomes essential to simplify and mass as much as possible. In fact, this entire painting is just an arrangement of massed objects, with relatively little detail. I tried as much as possible to see the simple shapes. Then when it comes together at the end, it feels busy but is still readable without depicting every flower or leaf.

The first thing I did was to break down the distance into three sections: foreground, mid-ground and background. I then determined where each object was and forced it into one of the three depths. This made the painting much simpler to decipher when it came to establishing my values and intensities. I sketched the scene in pencil and made notes to where I wanted the my shadows and lights on the pathway. Next I started in the foreground bushes and found a value and color note of the in-shadow greens. Once I had a note I liked, I expanded on the area by shifting the colors and temperatures, but not value. That “holds” those shadowed green masses forward and creates the feeling of “foreground”. The tree off to the right was also painted in that same value range, as was the two larger tree trunks on the left.

I moved to the mid-ground next which included all of the flowers and the green tree in the middle. I again tried to keep all of my values to fit into this section. It had to be less intense than anything in the foreground but leaving myself room for background values. The distant trees and water (background) were then painted into the open areas of the canvas. These were the coolest and grayest of the painting.

The pathway was painted last by comparing my values to the foliage next to it as it traveled back into space. I added a figure walking for a touch of the human element. The overall simplicities let the viewer fill in the gaps with their imagination, engaging them to take part in the work. Enjoy!