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.
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.
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.
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.