Monday, February 22, 2016

Going Through the Painting Process, Studio Work

I get asked (a lot) if I always start a painting with a value study.  I won't lie - no not always.  When I'm outside, I quickly get caught up in the excitement of capturing a scene en plein air and get started.  If you have a smart phone, you can jump start this process by taking a photo, then changing it to grayscale.  This can quickly help you discover any issues the potential composition will have.  Yes that's right, it will almost always have something that won't work.  Seeing the composition in grayscale will help you see correct values.

But when I'm in my studio, I always start with a value study.  This is because I have the luxury of time in my studio.  There is time to look at the potential composition and work out any problems it may have.  There is time to decide on proportions and if the piece should lean toward light values or darker values.  The goal in my studio is usually to work toward creating a larger piece, therefore the process becomes more important.  When outside, I'm in the moment of discovery - this is part of the process.  Therefore the outdoor painting is treated as a study.

A value sketch to get the process started.

Let me walk you through the studio painting process.  As mentioned, first I start with at least several value studies, sometimes notans as well.  These monochromatic sketches are often substituted for one another, but they are two different things.  A notan is only black and white - no gray values.  It's an abstract way to look at your composition as either in light or in shadow.  A value sketch has varying values of gray that accurately represent the values seen in your reference material.  I will always do several value sketches.  If I'm uncertain if a painting should lean toward light or dark, or I want to see the abstract design in a composition, I will create some notans.

Pillsbury Snow Study, oil, 6x8   ©Kim Casebeer
After the monochromatic sketches are complete, I will make a color study.  The size of the study will depend on the desired size of the finished painting.  It may also depend on how much I'm changing things around in the design compared to my photo or plein air references.  If a lot is going to change and I'm unsure of how it will all come together, I'll do a small color study first.  This is typically 6x8 or similar.  If that works, and I think the final piece will be large, I will often create one more color study, perhaps twice the size of the first one.

I'm in the process of working on this snow scene of a local landmark called Pillsbury Crossing.  The crossing is where the bottom of Deep Creek becomes a solid rock bed, capable of being driven across.  There is a lot of overgrown brush along the creek.  I wanted to see if I could simplify it by opening it up, as well as giving it a heavy snow fall to cover more of the rocks.  We haven't had a heavy snow this year so making it up is necessary!  To try this out, I started with a 6x8 color study (after the value sketch).  I felt like it worked and could potentially be a large piece.  But I also know from experience that what works in a 6x8 doesn't always translate to, say 24x30.  I decided to double it, going to a 12x16 color study.  You can see the reference photo plus the two color studies in the image below.

The 6x8 color study, the 12x16 color study, and the reference photo in the bottom left.

I adjusted the rock shapes in the foreground, added a few more loose rocks in the water, broke up the snow banks a little more, and pushed the warm highlights a little more.  There are a few more adjustments I need to make now that I've let the 12x16 sit for a few days.  Overall, I feel like it will be successful larger.  I feel confident in doubling the size once more - to 24x30 or so.  I just made a new, alkyd primed, linen board and am ready to get started.  We'll see where this adventure leads!