Paintings don’t paint themselves. We have to start so skill and serendipity can meet. Painting is a magical and very paradoxical process. This suits me fine as I find the world more interesting this way. But because of this, we don’t always get to go out into the studio and find the muse waiting for us, we have to work to find it and do that time and time again.  As a painter I don’t just want to have a home run now and again, I want to be consistent.  In order to be consistent, I have to have faith in the process. Even if you don’t trust yourself, maybe you feel insecure or somehow not good enough or some bullshit like that, you can in fact trust the process.

Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, trickling here, meandering there. Follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will find you. – Shen Yeng

Begin with a concept, an idea. Then, consider the options for adding strength to the idea once you’ve chosen the format…square, rectangle, vertical, horizontal.

The next decision is placement of the horizon line, high or low  to support your original concept. Decide is your painting about the earth or the sky? Break the scene down to three to five main masses, varying their size and shape while keeping them simple.

Value and color within each mass must be close so that the mass can retain it’s identity. Key in on something at this early stage, e.g., a light or dark value or rich color so you can constantly compare back to it.

Keep the pastel as thin as possible at this laying in or blocking in stage, especially the darks. The darks represent shadow or the absence of light and therefore the absence of texture.

Once you’ve established the masses, begin to fine tune the color and the values. In landscape, colors are more neutral than many think, so they should be given close attention. This is why we go to the source and use direct observation rather than a photo if possible. Color can be greyed with complements which can be layered in pastel or mixed in oils. Watch for warm and cool transitions at this point. They can be very subtle. Small areas of rich color will make the entire painting look colorful.

Consider saving the thick pastel passages for the last 10% of the piece after the color and values have been fined tuned.

Edges should be considered in finishing the piece and done so throughout the entire painting. Hard edges command attention. As a general rule, keep them in and around the center of interest. In the landscape we often deal with vast distances, so soften edges as they recede as forms turn.

Simplicity is the key to good painting. Most great paintings have a range of only three to four values. Don’t niggle away at your piece with endless detail and color…see it simply, paint it simply.


5 Step Process

1. Planning
Decide on your concept and know why you are painting it

Establish your horizon line. Do you want it high or low in your composition?

How does this support your idea/concept. Is your piece about the earth
or about the sky?

Plan your shapes. Establish 3 to 5 main masses. Vary their size and shape and keep them simple. Make sure a couple are dominant and some subordinate.

2. Drawing
Pay careful attention to drawing and perspective

Consider how the shapes overlap and sit in space. What is in front and what is behind and what is the baseline for each shape?

3. Blocking In
Mass the Values.

Key in on something; a darkest dark or lightest light. Compare the mid-tones back to this.

Average the color and value in each mass. Squint your eyes to help you simplify if this works for you.

Remember that value gets lighter and color gets cooler as it recedes.

Keep the layers as thin as you can at this stage, especially in the darks.

4. Adding On
Adjust the Color

In nature, color is more neutral than you think.

Neutralize your color by skimming a complimentary layer over another, or choose a more muted color, chromatic grey, or even an achromatic grey

Watch for warm vs. cool transitions

Small notes of rich color can make your entire painting sing!

5. Finishing
Work the edges; hard edges command attention. As a general rule keep them near your center of interest.

Soft edges recede as form turns.

Compare edges where masses meet

Pay attention to your entire painting. This doesn’t mean give equal emphasis to everything, it just means you’ve considered all of it.

If you are reading this you are engaged in art making. This in itself is a beautiful thing whether or not the art you create is something you think has merit. The process has merit and you are somehow in that process, in the flow of it which is something to celebrate! Now just trust!

With Warmest Regards,

Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

My free online minilessons in art are a fantastic way to learn more about your craft, regardless of your skill level. There are lessons available on everything from basic drawing techniques to complex painting methods, and no matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something that appeals to you. Whether you’re a beginner who’s just starting out, or a seasoned artist who wants to brush up on your skills, these minilessons are a great resource. These lessons are available anytime, anywhere. So whether you’re looking for a quick refresher or want to explore something new, be sure to check out some of my minilessons at Painting Lessons with Marla.

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