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Friday, March 20, 2015

Embarking on a Big Painting: The Finish

"Waterfall" 36x36 oil/canvas
Final State

In a recent post, I wrote about starting a large studio painting based on a variety of reference material.  The painting is now complete, and it's taken me six days to paint it.

First, I arranged all my reference material, as you see here.  The tablet holder is one of the best pieces of equipment I've bought lately.  It is very stable. By the way, one negative to using a tablet for photo references is that it's all too easy to check e-mail.  On the plus side, it's great for playing my Pandora playlist!

Day 1
Next, after toning my canvas with Gamblin's FastMatte transparent earth red and letting it dry, I blocked in the darks with a soft, three-inch brush, using raw umber thinned with Gamsol.   Where necessary, I "pushed" the raw umber toward the cool with ultramarine blue and toward the warm with cadmium red light.  As to the design of the block-in, I spliced together two different views made at two different times of year.  For the upper half, I used the waterfall pencil sketch I'd made in the winter; for the bottom, the 9x12 plein air sketch I made last spring.  You'll note that the composition is split in half at the waterline.  I did this intentionally because I wanted to give equal importance to what was above and below the surface.

Day 2

After the block-in, I went to work on the waterfall with a painting knife.  To me, this was the primary center of interest, and if I couldn't get it correct right from the start, there'd be no point continuing.  For this, I used only my pencil sketch for form and my 6x8 color sketch for color notes.

This would be a good point to mention the colors I used.  My palette consisted of all Gamblin paints:  ivory black, yellow ochre, raw umber, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red light, permanent alizarin, ultramarine blue and titanium-zinc white.  I also used a little Solvent-Free Gel for my  medium when I required a little extra looseness in the paint.

Day 3

Next, I brushed in the hillside to the right of the waterfall.  This is a more distant area in the scene, so I kept the painting more abstract; the contrast, low; and the color, cool.

Day 4

As I continued to paint other areas, I kept in mind how I wanted to lead the eye around.  In a way, I was working backwards from my center of interest along this path for the eye.  The next step was the little area of sunlit rocks and grasses on the left, connected to the waterfall by a warm, green passage; and this was followed by the submerged but warm rocks in the foreground.

Day 5
The area I saved for last was the upper left quadrant.  For much of the time, I honestly didn't know what needed to go there.  What's interesting is that the painting really worked with nothing there but the underpainting, so I knew whatever I added had to be dark with little contrast.  Shadowy trees and bushes were the obvious solution, and I used my photo references for that.  I added a transition between the waterfall and the clump of rocks and weeds on the left with a few highlit branches.

Day 6
After addressing that area, I felt the painting was nearing closure.  But as much as I liked the quiet feeling of the water,  it needed a little more interest.  I added some very soft reflections and ripples.  As a final touch, I added floating bubbles—tiny bits of pure white, applied by a knife just barely touching the surface.  The irregular bumps in the weave were just enough to pull the paint off the knife.

Below are some details shots, followed by the finished painting again.

"Waterfall" 36x36 oil/canvas, finished state