Friday, July 12, 2013


THE REAL DEAL   12x16  oil on canvas panel
While I'm working on trying to generate paintings for my galleries, I've been remiss in keeping up with my blog.  A good problem, but I do want to get things into balance.  In the meantime, here's a quick "step-by-step" I sometimes use to build a painting.  I use this, at times, both when painting outdoors and in the studio.

First step is to come up with a design that has enough positives about it to get me excited about doing the work.  In this case, I had the boats from a photo I took while down on the gulf coast.  Their coloring was different, but if you get the basic values right you can adapt the color to the design idea.  The bait shack was in another photo, so I worked up a sketch to join the two together and create a focal area The convergence of the shrimper and the bait shack.  When you do this you need to take care that you don't confuse the perspective, lighting and scale of the different references.  It's also a good idea to have spent enough time painting outdoors to have a fair working knowledge of what goes on with natural light, color and atmosphere.  When I've made the rough arrangement and considered the cropping, I put together a light and shade pattern that I find visually interesting.  Either the light or the shade needs to dominate.  In this one, it's the light group of shapes that prevails.
Compositional Value Pattern, or NOTAN

As you can see, I don't work on a white surface. This helps me to judge my value relationships as I begin to apply the color notes.  I think of white as an extreme highlight, and the toned surface helps me to reserve its punch.  I rarely use white straight from the tube.  I like to add a bit of color to influence its tint and help it to join more comfortably with the color scheme.

The dark for the drawing is not black, but a mixture that makes a dark neutral, like Permanent Alizarin, or Venetian Red and Ultra Marine Blue.  It just seems to keep the darks more lively to have some temperature variation going on rather than a dead black.

Shadow value color notes
Next, I begin mixing colors for the shadow group only, paying close attention that their values hold to the darks instead of sticking out like a light within the shade.  At this point the colors are approximations of hue and temperature as I observe (and often choose to exaggerate) them. [ I like the logic that art is not what I see, so much as what I feel and communicate. ]  Notice the warm and cool shadow values under the eaves of the cabin roofs.

Often, my next step would be to paint the color notes for the light group of shapes.  But in this one the sky and water are going to play a big part in determining how those notes will look.  The sky is surprisingly darker in value and far more neutral in hue than we may think.  If you paint it to light in value and bright in hue, you have no where to go to make the other colors stand out properly.  So, I block them in with my best general approximation of value and hue.  Until you've mixed these and seen what happens when all the color relates together, you just can't appreciate how gray they actually are.

sky block-in
I've placed a white square on the bow of one shrimper so you can see the effect of saving white.  With the light mid values of the sky and water in place, I can better approximate my light value colors so as to retain their clean, punchy color.  Notice the sunny effect of having saved the white for subtle tints.  I work my way through the light shapes relating values to make sure they hold to the light family and temperatures that are warm or cool due to reflected light.

With all that in laid in as a "best approximation", it's time to go through again, refining val/hue relationships, color temperatures and edges.
I'm always trying to get better at putting down brushstrokes and pretty much leaving them alone as much as possible.  It's very easy to overwork the painting when you become overly concerned with the details.  I suppose only time doing it will improve the results.  Anyway, there it is!   One simplified approach to organizing a painting.


  1. Nice instructional post, Jimmy. It's good that you explain about combining photos. People usually think that when you use photos for reference, you are just duplicating what is in the shot and not making design decisions.

  2. Thank you, Frank. Hadn't thought of that, but you're right! I've learned that it not only gets disappointing results trying to just go from a photo, but it takes all the fun out of it. Design and interpretation is what makes it worth doing.

  3. I love seeing your process and the painting is wonderful. It evokes a great sense of time and place. Love the addition of the bait shop.

  4. Nice to hear from you, Laurel. Thank you, for your visit.

  5. I enjoyed reading how you think through the process, and then follow through in paint. Nice piece Jimmy. That piece of square white was an eye opener.
    Louise Sackett

  6. Very nice, Jimmy! I am headed to Port A this weekend and you have me motivated to somehow fit the french easel into the car with the all the floaties,beach chairs and assorted whatnot. Keep up the good work!

    1. Paint early, Matt. It gets awfully hot down there in the middle of the day. Have fun!