Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plein Air Painting Made Easy

I am doing this blog on making painting easy. When I was getting my doctorate in grad school, my profs kept saying," son, KISS ", when doing my thesis or ,"keep it simple stupid!". Why were they telling very bright adults this admonition? Because the human being tends to complicate things they don't fully understand. The other thing is that painting is hard or complex, but broken down into key elements, we can simplify things. Yesterday, with my beginning oil painting students I wanted to make things simple so they could understand the process. Here is oil painting in my step by step by step method.
Above, Sailboats, Sausilito, Ca. 9x12, $300

1. First, look around you and find what is interesting to paint. Ask yourself why? Is it the color, light, emotional impact or drama. Keep it simple by having only two, maybe three major elements in your painting. For example, a tree, bridge, and some flowers. Some of the greatest paintings of all time are very simple. Take Andrew Wyeth's painting of a women in the lower left corner reaching toward a barn in the upper right corner. Powerful, yet simple. Have a vision of what you want to paint in mind. Borrow from past masters. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Become a student of art history.
2. Second, do a pencil or value sketch. In this phase, you do more that just find three values or lights and darks. You also arrange the masses and design. The later element too big to go into in this blog but I will address later. You paint from this basic pencil sketch, perhaps THE most important phase of the painting.
3. Third, block in. Get the canvas covered with the approximate color and value.
Spending too much time or adding detail in wrong. You can go back in and alter things later. I like working from back to forward, dark to light, and thin to thick. After my darks, I establish my lightest light, probably the sky but could be elsewhere. Then make adjustments within that value system.
4.Fourth, modeling stage. Here I come in and add detail, adjust lights and add more darks. Try for three values in all major shapes. Don't forget grays, ( they help the colors to jump out) and mix for the correct color by trial and error. My friend and teacher Don Hatfield has a complete mess and overworks his colors to the point of mud and falls apart for hours, but in the last ten minutes he pulls out a beauty. Have sparkle by looking for tics of light. Randy Sexton calls them "Blings".
Did you capture the light? A good painting has a feeling of light in it. Everybody has their own way. Yesterday, one student wiped off her canvas and repainted most of it and came out with a winner. Don't be afraid to wipe off, or come up with a looser the first time out ( or twenty times out). Ask yourself what did you learn? Be patient with yourself, take a break, eat and drink lots of water. Get the help you need. Good painting is a product of miles of canvas ( experience) and skill acquisition (learning ). Good luck!!
See my website for workshop days and fees at

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