Seascape painting in process |

Seascape painting in process

I took a few pictures of a painting as it developed in the studio today, and I thought this might make an interesting blog post of a work in progress.

This is a pretty big piece (15 x 30 inches).

I started the painting by toning the canvas using transparent red oxide.  I like this color for toning because it is both a warm color and transparent.  Getting rid of the white canvas is really important to help get things going.

In this first image, I've blocked in all the shapes using a dark mixture of the red oxide and ultramarine blue.  I've also established the sky so that I can identify the lightest lights (and compare all other marks against these lights), and I've quickly wiped out some of the tone color to establish where I'm going to introduce a breaking wave.

I tend to work on the whole canvas at once, focusing on whatever is most 'off' at any point in time.  At this phase I have the darkest darks (rocks) and the lightest lights (the sky) established.  What is most off are the mid-values (the water), so I'll start to work that in ...

Next I need to work in the shadow values of the cast shadow on the whitewater foam.  These are some of the trickier values because these could be considered a white in shadow.  These need to be recognizable as part of the darks in the painting, but they need to be closest to the lights.  It's a fine balancing act to get it right.
Once I get to this point for the first time I start to get a sense of luminosity on in the painting (at least in one spot).  Here's a closeup where I got that important first important rush of capturing the 'light envelope' (that elusive quality gives a painting glow)...


It's rough still, but it's there.  The edges are still too hard, and lots of the toned canvas is still showing.  But at the intersection of the rocks, their cast shadows and the lighter water it is just starting to 'glow'.

Notice too how blue the whitewater is and looks.  Part of it is that I'm staying far away from white so that I have lighter values in reserve for later on.  It also looks very blue here because the red toned canvas is still so visible.  a cool color (blue) next to a warm (red) will look ever cooler. When the red eventually gets covered, the blue will look less intense.  This is called simultaneous contrast, and is one of the trickiest parts of painting.

Here's a black and white of that detail.  It is the value (darks and lights) that make a painting glow (NOT the colors as is so often mistakenly assumed).  The black and white is a nice way to analyze a painting to see if the values are working.

Also notice how the red toned canvas a the greens in the water (far right) virtually merge in the black and white image.  This is because they are the same value.  Try to squint at the color version so see this value relationship.  It's hard to see - right? 


Continuing on, I get the canvas covered so that I can see everything in relation to everything else.

I then work across the whole painting making adjustments so that each element reads the way I want in relation to all the other elements of the painting.  Because of simultaneous contrast, it can't really make these kinds of adjustments until the canvas is covered.  All decisions are about relationships, and you can't evaluate a relationship without all the pieces being available for comparison.

"Coastal Calligraphy" (in process), Oil, 15x30

This is where I left it for the day.  I'll work on it again tomorrow, but getting the whole canvas covered with a decent sense of the 'light envelope' is a good stopping point. 

... and finally, a B&W of the piece as it stands today to help see the value map of the painting.