Friday, September 11, 2015

Re-creating a Painting

Sunrise at Campobello, 12x24 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson - Available
(Re-creation of en plein air painting)

Recently, I decided to re-create a painting I'd sold a couple of years ago. The painting was a signature piece for my Friar's Bay Studio Gallery in that it featured the Roosevelt Cottage, which is the main jewel of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park. Although I have paintings of the other cottages in my gallery, I was lacking this most important one.  Here is the original 12x24 painted, en plein air, over two days:

Mr Roosevelt's House - 12x24 oil en plein air by Michael Chesley Johnson
(Private Collection)

Not wanting to redraw the whole cottage by hand in a new painting, I needed to figure out a way to use the drawing of the cottage as represented in the original painting. A good photograph of that painting plus Photoshop helped me out.

Using Photoshop, I cropped the photo down so it included just the cottage but maintained the original height of the painting. (The new painting was going to be the same 12x24 as the original, so for proper registration, this crop needed to be 12 inches tall.) Since the cottage had been positioned in the right half of the painting, I cropped out everything to the left of it. Next, I converted the full-color photo to greyscale. Then I applied the "poster edges" filter to make the edges of shapes clearer. This final image I saved as a PDF file.

I printed out the PDF file full-size with the "poster" and "cut marks" options checked in my printer dialog box. This centered the image on four sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. I trimmed along the cut marks, as shown:

I assembled my "poster, and then taped the sheets together:

Then I did my final trim:

Next, I turned the paper over and colored the back solidly with a black pastel:

I then carefully positioned the sheet, pastel side down, over my 12x24 panel (toned with yellow ochre) and taped it in place:

Using a sturdy cardboard tube as a mahl stick, I traced the major features of the cottage with a hard pencil:

When I removed the paper, I had an accurate (though cartoonish-looking) drawing of the cottage on my panel:

After spraying the drawing with fixative, I continued to the painting step. Here is an early stage, followed again by the final version. I call this a "re-creation" of the original because there are intentional differences between the two paintings. I did not simply want to copy the original, which was a plein air piece. Although I maintained the quality of morning light, I made some small changes.

Half-way through the painting stage
Framed on the easel
The final painting (also pictured at top of post)

If you'd like to read more about the process of using plein air references for studio paintings, please read my book, Outdoor Study to Studio: Take Your Plein Air Painting to the Next Level. It is available at

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