Tag Archives: process

swamp painting update


This painting is testing me. I’m kinda scared but I will finish it.

Since I last posted an update on it, I’ve worked on it another 6 hours or so, and I don’t know if you can see the progress. I finished the background which I warmed up a little with a glaze of warm gray brown in the shadows on the ground and a lighter warm gray brown in the far away trees next to the sky. I added more light green to the tree tops in the middle ground, and went over the middle ground trees twice. That makes 3 times I painted the middle ground trees and background, once in the underpainting and twice with light and dark glazes. The middle ground isn’t finished. I haven’t painted the Spanish moss.

The weather is holding up my progress. One day it was cloudy when I got up and I almost wrote off the day but the sun came out later and I took my paints to the swamp and mixed some colors to indicate sunlight and shadows on the water. It was too late in the day to take my canvas over there because the light is best early in the morning. By noon the shadows are all washed out by light. When I got home I faked in some light and shadows on the water because it’s not easy to see them, so no one will ever know if they’re not right.

Yesterday it was sunny and cold in the morning. I said, YEAH! I’ll have it all to myself! A few people walked behind me and only said good morning, so I made some good progress on my trees then suddenly it was cloudy so I packed up and came home and worked on my trees at home for and hour or so. I mixed my colors at the swamp and had my previous layers of paint to go by, so I’m sure what I did at home will be ok. Sometimes I try to work on a painting at home then when I get back out I have to correct everything I did at home.

We’re getting a lot of cloudy and rainy weather. I might be able to work on the Spanish moss on Sunday. Then more rain until Wed. or Thurs.

The scary part is the water. I’ll have to paint reflections, maybe a lot of reflections. It could take a long time, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to paint the water but first I need to do the Spanish moss because it will also be reflected in the water.

One good thing about painting in this style is that every mistake can be corrected. If I can’t paint the water convincingly the first time I can paint over it. I should get a start on the cypress knees in the foreground before starting on the reflections because they will also be reflected. I’ll have to trace my trees and flip them upside down to get the reflections in the right place. Sometimes the reflections are like a mirror, a blurry mirror.

The last steps after the water will be to go over the cypress knees a second time and paint a lot of sticks. Last year in the winter I saw a beautiful red glow on the skinny sticks but I didn’t see it so far this winter. Maybe the atmospheric conditions have to be right, because I’m pretty sure it was the dead of winter and in the morning I saw the red glow. If it doesn’t come back I might fake it.

The slow pace of progress on this is ok for me. I have patience.

I have the painting propped up in the living room and I often glance over at it.  I can see what I need to work on next. If only the sun would come out for a few days, I’d be so happy. Meanwhile, I might try to do a watercolor at home. I have a little poinsettia that would make a good subject.

swamp painting progress report


Half finished

It’s real nice painting outside when it’s in the 40s F. (cool for my Celsius reading friends) Not too many people walk across the overlook distracting me. My attention span seems to last around 2 hours. When I can see I’ve made some progress I start to feel the cold. I’m wearing layers, but standing still, except to sit on a cold bench sometimes for a break.

I went there twice this week and stayed 2 hours each time and got the background under control and started on the trees on the right. Tomorrow they’re calling for cloudy weather. That’s ok, I’d like to wait a day or so for this paint to dry before I go over it again. Giving a layer of paint time to dry helps eliminate the problem of “muddy colors” because you can put a warmer glaze over a cooler one,  cooler to warmer, lighter or darker, any direction you want it to go without mixing the paint on the canvas. Instead the viewers eye mixes the colors and sees a brighter gray, green, brown, orange, whatever.  That’s one trick to avoid muddy colors.

Another trick to remember is not to mix the colors with your paintbrush. Mix the colors with a palette knife on the palette. Keeping the colors clean, even if they’re gray. For this you need a brush for each color. Mixing colors with a brush on the canvas causes muddy colors, though I think artists worry too much about mud. (mud is part of nature)  Those two things make a difference to the eye of a trained art viewer.

We might get some rain next week. Hopefully, I can get back out there on Sat. or Sun. to work on this. If we get a few days of rain I’ll have to put this aside and find another project to amuse myself.


swamp underpainting / oil


This is a 30 x 30 canvas. I need to do a detailed underpainting because this is a complicated plan. So far, I have my sunlight and shadows blocked in. The underpainting is an important step because this is when I make the most decisions. I can tell that it’s close to correct perspective because I can fit the trees in with spacing that’s close to what I see there. And I decided how much Spanish moss will be in the painting, how much water, where I want the most contrast in order to make focal points, etc.

Now I  have to go over the whole painting again, maybe twice, starting with the sky and the background trees at the top and working my way down the canvas into the foreground with layers of glazes. I’ll brighten it up a lot and give it some depth. I want the grays in the trees to look pearly so I’ll use warm and cool grays together and try to keep the values from light to dark with the same contrast as I see in nature.

I think the water will be the hardest part and it’s the last thing to finish. I don’t have that figured out yet.

This is a start. I have over 10 hours in it so far, and 6 trips to the swamp. including the times I sketched. It could still take weeks to finish because of the weather. I want to get there early in the morning and leave around 10 when the light is different and the park gets crowded. I didn’t expect to make this much progress this fast on the painting, so I think I can finish it in Dec.

a plan for a watercolor / charcoal


I didn’t finish this sketch because it started to rain. That’s one of the problems  of your plein air painter. There was a 10% chance of rain. I don’t know if you can make this out, but it’s a path through wildflowers with a few trees. All the little dots are bright yellow and orange flowers. There will be hundreds of them in the painting.

I need to do roughs like this before starting my painting so I can work out a good composition first. This helps me to decide things like, should I use a horizontal or vertical format for my painting. How many trees can I fit into the picture, how much of the sky and background trees will be seen, what part of the painting to start on first, if I need to eliminate trees, and so on.

If I want to get a finished looking painting I need to get a good plan for how to do the background, middle ground and foreground. When you don’t do a finished background it’s a less finished and more sketchy looking painting. If you figure out in advance things like where to make different textures or focal points there’s a better chance the painting will come out like you want it to. It’s a good idea to have less complicated areas in the painting too so the viewers eye has a place to rest, and to work on shadows so they’re interesting to the viewer.

This is the old school process that I learned long ago. Take the time, follow the steps and it will work out much better. It’s not a waste of time to figure out a good plan first.

Now I have to stretch a piece of watercolor paper and draw it again. Then I can start painting the bright flowers on the white paper and block them out with masking fluid so I can paint green foliage right over top of them and when I take the masking fluid off later the yellows and oranges will still be bright spots.

It’s warm here but it will cool down soon. We might not have any frost for a few more weeks though, so I have time to try another watercolor before I get into my big plan to paint the swamp this winter. I was happy to see the wildflowers in full bloom. I’ve wanted to do a painting of them for a couple years but missed the  chance  because I was into painting another scene at the time they were blooming.

sketches and plans for my unfinished painting of the Chinese Paperbush


Did I draw too many flowers? Or not enough? Do I even know what I’m doing? Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself as I stand outside in the arboretum sketching flowers for my painting of the Chinese Paperbush on 40*F days.

I’m dressed for the weather so 40* is ok for me to be out a couple hours on a sunny day, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to use these sketches. When I paint the flowers on my canvas they’ll be smaller. Am I wasting a lot of time in the rather nippy fresh air?

Half the time I think I can paint the flowers at home instead of taking my oil paints, easel, canvas etc over there. Then the other half of the time I think I have to take all my stuff and at least get started on it in plein air and maybe I can finish it at home, because I think painting the flowers might be time consuming.

It’s not that I’m really stuck with this difficult painting, I’m still working on it, but I’m not exactly sure how to proceed and I don’t want to mess it up since I already have a lot of time in it. When I was in art school so long ago, they told us if you don’t have a good plan worked out for your painting, do more sketches. I’m going back to my training on this one.IMG_2186

I worked on the branches at home for a few hours but I still want to go over them again after I get the flowers on the bush. The branches should be a warmer color. It’s almost a glow. I hope I can get that orange winter sunlit effect. I’ll do a glaze.

I want to go over the ground again too, maybe with a palette knife, and define the shadows more.

So, for art viewers who are interested in the process, here’s where I have to make some decisions. Some paintings don’t require as much planning.