Planning a Large Studio Painting

Rich and I were driving up to SF and the wildflowers along the Pescadero coast were truly stunning. Decorating the dunes above the beach were the golds, reds, sage greens and whites of the wildflowers.

Quick Studies of Wildflowers, Pescadero Beach
Quick Studies of Wildflowers, Pescadero Beach

I took a set of photos, and returned a week later with my friend Skip, to do some plein air paintings of the scene. The bottom image was painted on site and then I worked on several other sizes and formats in the studio. I especially liked the vertical (portrait mode) formats – on the upper left and on the upper right of this picture. The S-curve path to the beach leads you into the painting. I find it a bit refreshing to create a vertical seascape. The gold flowers add a sparkle to the otherwise gray, foggy day.

When you are out exploring and enjoying the landscape, take several pictures of the scenes which most attract you. Collect these images to create your own painting reference library. With digital camera and storage there is almost no additional cost to take 20 images versus 2 or 3. Just be sure you have a good organizing system for all the photos.

When you are ready to make a large painting, review your pictures and make several small studies or quick sketches before deciding which scene will be the basis for your larger, more important work. A quick sketch is painted by simplifying the design to basic masses and value. For example, the sky is one basic shape, the land another, upright vertical trees a third. You want to arrange these basic shapes on your canvas in a way that is interesting to you and the viewer. You can think of puzzle pieces that will fit together in an evocative pattern. Do not put any detail, nor much time, into these sketches.

Wait until you’ve done three or four quick sketches of the same location, then choose one you like the best, and take it one step larger. For example, expand a 9 x 12 painting to a 12 x 16 painting. Try to keep the ratio of height to width (aspect ratio) the same. This makes translation to a larger painting easier, especially in using a grid system. Currently, I’m working on a 24 x 18 painting of the Pescadero scene of which I made those studies.

Students will be following these steps in my “Six Saturdays”  class, which begins January 20.

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