Monday, January 18, 2010

How to Paint a Diptych

"Coffee Pot Rock and Beyond"
7x10, diptych, oil/panel

Sometimes, we see a panoramic scene that would make a stunning landscape, but the scene is so grand and sweeping that we don't have the energy to do the whole thing at once. At such times, you might consider creating a diptych - a two-part painting. Each part can be done separately, just so long as together they depict the same lighting and weather conditions. Another "rule" of the diptych is that not only must it be well-composed, but so do each of its parts. Each part should be its own, complete painting.

The other day, we headed over to the end of Andante Street, where there is a trail that wanders up to the Chimney formation and Thunder Mountain and beyond. From the trailhead, you get some of those grand, sweeping views. I hadn't intended to do a diptych, but I had a 12x16 panel that I'd marked off into four 5x7 rectangles with masking tape. I decided to use two of those rectangles for a diptych.

I didn't paint each part separately. Instead, when I sketched in the large masses, I let my brush slide right over the masking tape from one part to the next. I wanted to make sure the two images fit together properly. Next, I blocked in the shadows in both parts. My reason for this was that the shadows were changing quickly and I wanted to keep my lighting consistent in each. But once I'd blocked in my shadows, I knew I could take my time. I worked on the left half until it was complete, and then I moved on to the right half.

You can also do triptychs and, I suppose, any number of images that are linked in this way. The more parts you have, of course, the longer it will take. But if you block in the shadows throughout right from the start, you'll avoid having inconsistent lighting.

Below is a closeup of each panel.


Manuel CasaBranca said...

I really like to work diptych also. And more :-)
Your is a great work, the light/shade and volumes.

billspaintingmn said...

These colors are clean, and the brush strokes are fresh.
Looks like a good day in the mountains.
This method of masking tape to do a diptych sounds good. I'll give it a try!
Thanks Michael

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thank you, Manuel and Bill!

Carolyn Jean Thompson said...

Beautiful paintings! What kind of panel did you use, and how do you cut them apart when the paintings are dry? (from someone who hasn't gotten into oil yet)

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Carolyn! The panel is from Art Box and Panel (, and it is linen on birch plywood. Once the painting is dry, I'll cut it out with a utility knife. With a steel ruler used as a stop, it's very easy to cut.