On the Rocks

‘On the Rocks’ – Framed Oil painting on Canvas

I painted ‘On the Rocks’ primarily plein air, while on a painting workshop instructed by Karen Swearengen. We were located in Fish Creek Park, in Calgary, near the southwest edge of the park. The day started off very cloudy and chilly, with soft, diffused lighting. This is one of the perils of plein air painting – you sometimes have to take the bad with the good! But on this day, we were in for a treat. Within an hour or two, that chilly wind began to chase the clouds away and we ended up in full sun! Although this bit of luck warmed our fingers, it radically changed the lighting and shadow patterns in the scenery we were painting. This is a common problem when plein air painting.

Quickly changing weather and lighting effects is one of the reason why it is so important to work on smaller canvasses, and to make decisions quickly. One would think then, that the best strategy is to get paint on canvas as fast as you can, but a step or two beforehand can not only help you work faster once you are ready to paint, but will also help you achieve greater results.

There are two steps that I’ve found to be most helpful, and both of these steps have been taught to me by Karen. First, prepare a ‘value sketch’. When I began creating art, I would agonize over these sketches. I’d painstakingly render every little detail and it would take me hours. A better approach is to allow yourself anywhere from 5-10 minutes to compose a couple of small sketches – nothing bigger than 2″x3″ – and limit yourself to between 3 and 5 different values. Remember the point here is just to establish value; if you can start recognizing ‘objects’ in your sketch – stop! You’ve gone to far. Keep creating different sketches until you’re happy with your composition.

Next comes a color study. Yes I’m guilty of skipping this step, but I find that my results suffer when I do. This again, is small! Maybe 2″x3″ – that’s it! Don’t think you have to paint a whole piece before you can begin painting the actual canvas you’d intended to work on in the first place! You’re just establishing the color composition of your piece here, to begin rendering those light and shadow patterns in color.

With your value sketch and color study complete, begin your canvas. Don’t forget about your value sketch and color study! In them, you’ve made all the tough decisions already. Put them to work in your final canvas! Work briskly, but try not to rush; the more thick paint you lay down quickly, the more difficult it can be to go in and rework if necessary. Work assertively; don’t be afraid of your canvas –  more paintings are ruined by timidness, than by confidence.  And finally, work with a clear mind; don’t overthink it, just let your intuition lead the way and enjoy yourself. Thanks for reading. CP

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One thought on “On the Rocks

  1. Cheryl
    Thanks for the comment that you left me. I am still trying to make this blog and selling my paintings work. I paint small pieces as the shipping is easy and cost effective, storing unsold paintings is easier, and the cost of producing small paintings is less as well. I do paint large canvases but not that often. I have to paint and doing it every night is a commitment, I do not need that much sleep. Once my daughter and wife are asleep I start, usually at about nine in the evening and generally spend two hours painting. The process is almost like meditation, once I have begun the time flies. Sometime this is not the case and the painting is discarded in the morning. Being able to throw it away gives one the opportunity to let go and just paint and explore new things, without having a hugh amount of time and commitment involved.
    I do like you work – just keep doing as much as possible. Take care

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