Saturday, September 08, 2007


Today I invite you to look over my shoulder as I paint a sunrise on a quiet neighborhood street. In this painting I wanted to capture the effects of honey-colored sunlight as it began to wash across the homes in the early morning. I was after the big effects of the light and color in this scene rather than small details, so I kept this painting quite loose.

I began by using ochre to loosely sketch the big shapes of the composition (1). Ochre is a transparent color, easy to wipe off while it’s still wet if I make a mistake or change my mind in these initial stages. This sketch was my “safety net,” to make sure the scene fit well on the canvas before I began to use stronger colors.

Once I was satisfied with the general layout, I used a mixture of cadmium red and ultramarine blue (2) to place the darks and establish the form of the homes. This also served as an underpainting color for some areas of the canvas that would remain visible in the final picture.

In step (3) I began placing big spots of color in the sky and roofs of the houses. I like to nail down the big color spots early so that I can better evaluate how other colors will compare as I work on the rest of the picture. In step (4) I defined the sunlight pattern on the trees, being careful to note that the tops of the trees are in sunlight while the lower portions are in shadow. The areas in light are much more golden than the shadowy areas.

The same shadow that hit the lower parts of the trees also engulfed the lower part of the homes and the street. So in step (5) I established these shadow areas using broad strokes that could be refined later if needed.

Next I moved to the finishing steps (6). I painted the warm glow of color on the sunlit tops of the houses, included just enough information to identify cars parked along the street, added some form to the street itself, etc. After a few more adjustments it was finished.

Doesn’t that make you want to get outside and give it a try yourself? I’ll bet you would enjoy it. If you live within driving distance of Orange County, California come join me for one of my plein air workshops and try your hand at it!

You can email me at or check out details on my website at You might be surprised at how easy it is!

Today’s thought to smile about:
Enjoying real Maple syrup

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Blogger wanda knight said...

Wonderful. Thanks for the instructions. You make it look so easy.

8:09 AM  

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