The best paintings, to me, are the ones that look like they were easy. No trace of hesitation or overthinking. This time lapse video of my latest oil on canvas, “Early Snow,” probably makes it look like a breeze, but this is a condensation of many hours or painting, standing around looking at the painting, and tweaking things.
I tend to work on paintings in several stages, painting for an hour or two at a time. The first step is to lay down a thin undercoat. I almost always use a color that is complementary to whatever color will be the main focus of the painting. In this case, I intended to use a lot of pale greens and blue-grays, so I painted the earliest layer in reddish-oranges and orange-ish-yellows (green is opposite red, and blue is opposite orange on the color wheel). I also thought I’d like to let some of those sunshiny colors peek through to give the impression of late afternoon light breaking through clouds onto the facade of the buildings.
Then I went all crazy in the foreground with a palette knife and some very minimally mixed titanium white, green earth hue, and phthalo blue. Maybe a little yellow ochre for good measure. It’s not scientific at all. When it looked good and free-form enough I stopped. It’s necessary to just stop sometimes or the work looks too contrived (call it squelching my inner perfectionist).
I then dove into roughing out the front of the building with white, hoping it wouldn’t look too carefully drawn. Then it was on to some of the pine trees in the background, messily dotted on in dark greens and blues. Next were some of the leafless trees along the front of the building. These were tedious. I mean tiny brush, thin paint, making tiny, tiny lines for branches, limbs, and twigs. For. Ever. Problem with winter scenes: dead trees are tedious.
From this point on the rest of the painting consisted of a little dab of shading here, a little dot of highlight color there. And at some point I stopped and thought, “That looks pretty good right there.”
And, yes, this makes it sound pretty quick and easy, but as I said it takes hours. Practice and patience are also assets. Being able to admit defeat, walk away, and go back to make major changes even when you don’t want to are good too.
That’s about how I work. Seems to suit me so far!