Painting Process


A lot of folks marvel at how a painting could be finished in just two hours.  Well, that’s about all the time one has until the light changes so much that the scene looks very little like as it did when the painting was started.  There is some benefit in painting quickly and that is you learn to boil down the important aspects of a composition; light and shadow, values, what to put in and what to leave out, center of interest, etc.  All that is good exercise and develops the eye for good composition.  

However, I always have a camera with me, whether it’s a point-and-shoot or just my cell phone.  As the light changes, a painter might decide that it’s getting better than when started…or it’s getting worse.  I tend to snap several photos as the time goes on.  Sometimes focusing on the large scene; sometimes zooming in on a detail that intrigues me.  About one of ten plein air paintings are “framable” when finished.  Most of them, I consider a worksheet that might lead to a larger painting once I get back to the studio.  

And, once back in the studio, I clean up my equipment, turn to my reference photos and just sit with them and the plein air piece and listen…listen to hear if they tell me they have the energy and excitement it takes to become a larger piece.  I’ll play a bit with proportions of the photo to see if it looks better as a horizontal, a vertical, or where it might need cropping.  Relying on the freshness of the plein air piece, I’ll often try out the image on a moderately sized canvas such as a 9x12 or 11x14.  Sometimes those work out so well that I’ll consider doing a really big one such as the one you see on my homepage, The Wide Beyond.  That one went from reference photo to 10x12, all the way to 30x36 which now hangs at Kolb Studio!  © Dawn Sutherland  2017