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Today, I wanted to share some insights into how I start my paintings. I’ve taken a few workshops which has helped me get a little more organized in my process.

First, I want to say that attending workshops in painting has helped me to garnish new insights into the painting process.  I must stress, that I do not attend these workshops to ‘copy’ a way a painter paints.  Painting is a very personal expression.  I think when you try to copy a painter, it’s always like ‘starting over’ in a sense.  I think it’s important to build on the things that work for you, to add building blocks (so to speak) in a way that will elevate your paintings.  Keep the good things and throw the things that don’t work.   With that said, I think it’s important to understand the concepts of the painting process and discover new things.  I have taken my workshop experience and taken little bits of all the good parts of my instruction to try and make it my own.

So now on to some things I’ve learned over the past 9 months.  Firstly, a good painting always starts with good composition and drawing. I’m beginning to learn to not draw so literally. (I always want to draw every little detail). It’s important to find a good focal point and work out from there. If I do get detailed, I want it to be centered more around my focal point in the painting rather than everything on the paper.

I wanted to take my last post on “finding the sweet spot” of your painting and expanding this to my work. So, when I plein air paint or paint in the studio, I always work the same way. I start with a value sketch and composition. This I learned in Vlad’s class and still use it now.

Here is my reference photo for my first watercolor of Main Plaza Park in Boerne, Texas. I wanted the focal point to be the Gazebo in the park. The back building and trees are supportive structures. Of course the shadows from the trees are very important because they lead you into the composition.

The photo of Main Plaza Park in Boerne, Texas

The editing portion of my photo

So, before the sketch, if you have a photo editor, you can position the work the way you want it.  If you are plein air painting, you can also do this with your fingers and create a ‘box’ positioning your work.  In Vlad’s workshop, he uses his photo editor on his phone to identify the ‘rule of thirds’ in your photo and subject just in front of you.  It also helps you to identify the focal points and position them properly in your composition.

Once you are satisfied with the dimensions of your composition, I start to make a value sketch.  It is important to position the players in your composition. So I do a loose drawing and then cross hatch my drawing in a way that I want to present it on paper. It’s always good to start small when drawing before you start drawing on the watercolor paper. The preliminary sketch does 2 things, 1) It gives you a ‘dry run’ and some practice in capturing your subject and 2) It lays out the design, proportions and perspective of the work.

So, once I have my composition in order, I value sketch my work. This is so you know where the lights and darks are. This is also a good time to rearrange things, add people, etc. to your composition before you commit to the final drawing.

The final sketch cropped and simplified with my focal point identified.

Once the sketch is complete, you can transfer this to watercolor paper.  But before I do that, I mark my board into thirds and then draw small light, lines on my paper so I can get a good proportion in my drawing. Of course, after you have done this a few hundred times, you don’t really have to mark the paper. However, for the sake of making this post, I’ve drawn it out here.  One thing you should never stop doing, however, is your value sketch and marking the work.

So, then you are ready to begin the painting. This, for me, is a simple process and prepares me for the process of painting.

I wanted to also show you a set of drawings we did in Vlad’s workshop in December including the ‘thumbnail drawing’, the value sketch and composition.

So this small sketch is for composition only.  Here, a sketch is made of the Edison Keith house.  Once the preliminary “thumb nail” type sketch is complete, a value sketch can be done.

Here, using the “thumbnail” of the composition, the areas are shaded to show the lights and darks and where you want them in the painting.  This is very important because if this is not accurate, your painting will not work.  It has to be balanced tonally.

Once the sketch is complete and you are happy, it is then transferred to the watercolor paper as a loose sketch.  You can even use the value sketch as you paint to help you map out your tones and shades.

The First Drawing on Watercolor paper of the Edison Keith House (this is done after the tonal study)

So , even though this is not a post about the painting process, I’ve included the painting stages of this work.  Happy painting!


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