Wednesday, July 4, 2012


After The Bluebonnets     12x16    oil on canvas panel
This one is from a photo I shot while out painting on a friends ranch (attached below).  When I'm out painting I'll usually gather photo reference from the location to review later.  It comes in handy as information I may want to study more closely for a painting started as a plein air study, or it may be a springing point for an entirely new composition.

In this case, I was wowed by the vitality of the color in late spring. The bluebonnets had finished their display several weeks earlier, and there were now pastures carpeted with brilliant yellow wildflowers.  When I took the photo, I had no thought for what I may eventually do with it, although I knew it did not move me to want to paint the scene as I saw it.  The stuff in the scene, yes, but the composition was lacking design.

Back in my studio, a month and a half later, I was reviewing my photos.  When I saw this one again, I just decided to give it a go.  I asked myself, "what can I do to this to make it more interesting?".  I knew, of course, I wanted to take advantage of the gorgeous yellow carpet, but the question was how to create an abstract pattern of the landscape that included interesting shape relationships, with spatial cues and a center of interest.  After scribbling a few thumbnails I began to get a feel for it.  I added the left and right foreground shrubs to help unite the masses and give some shape variety.  I chose to place the caliche road to take the viewer into the picture and to the focal center.  I opened up the view to the distance a bit.  I decided to create a stronger light source than that of the hazy day when I shot the picture, and that allowed me to design some nice foreground shadows.

This is where the value of painting numerous plein air studies comes into play.  It gives you the confidence to invent what you'd like to see.  After all we're not cameras, we paint what moves us.


  1. Excellent post on the use of reference images. I love your work. and added a link on my blog. Happy painting!

  2. Thanks, for dropping in, Norman. I went to your website and blog to see what you do. Wow! Good stuff! I'm partial to your painterly oils. Looks like you're working with both brush and knife. Very nice.