Friday, February 22, 2008


6x6 inch original oil painting

This painting demonstration is for artists and non-artists alike.

Today I invite you to look over my shoulder as I paint on location. I hope you’ll find it interesting whether you are an artist or not. This old country road spoke to me with its charm and I couldn’t wait to paint it. I pulled off the road and got out the $20 pochade box that I show in my CD on PLEIN AIR PAINTING.

I like to begin paintings by sketching the large shapes, and stating the darkest darks so I can judge other values as I work. Then I quickly “capture the fugitives” (anything that is likely to escape while I’m painting). In this case the clouds were moving rapidly and they added a lot to the scene, so I wanted to capture them as soon as possible.

I chose a toned panel for this piece so that I could paint the clouds immediately after sketching the scene (see step 1). This isn’t possible on a white canvas and I couldn’t afford to wait. With that critical element resolved, I could slow the pace and carefully place the darkest darks (the underpainting for the foreground tree).

In step 2 I began establishing the spectrum of greens: deep, brownish greens in the foreground tree and lighter, more muted greens in the distance. This added considerable charm to the scene as I studied it, and I felt it was important to get the relationship right. That’s the kind of detail that keeps the painting interesting day after day, and year after year. Collectors of my work have commented that there is always something new and special to discover in my paintings because of this.

In step 3 broad areas of color and value were established for the mountains and sky. As I mixed and compared these colors with each other I was careful to assess their relationship to all other areas of the composition. Any spot of color in a successful painting needs to work with all other areas of color.

As I moved into the final stage (step 4) I made sure to echo the most important colors throughout the entire painting. For example the colors of the mountain range are echoed in the shadows across the roadway. This helps create what I call “color continuity,” and unifies the entire painting so that all parts work well together.

As I brought the painting to completion I carefully added what I call “spots of magic” here and there. For example, notice the accents of color and light on the tree limbs at the left. These may seem like minor details, but they are very important. This is the kind of thing that makes a viewer fall in love with a painting every time they study it. Finally I scrutinized the painting one more time and decided it was time to sign it. Done!

One more note. Always think in terms of painting for two viewing distances. One is how the painting is seen from across the room or across a gallery. You want the painting to have strength, beauty and charm when seen from this distance. I call this “wall power.”

The second viewing distance is when the painting is seen up close. When someone spots your painting and hurries over to study it more closely, they should find additional layers of “close-up charm” that create unexpected magic. This is the result of brushwork, color, surface texture and many other factors. This keeps a viewer coming back again and again to savor your painting. Pay careful attention to this. Collectors will love you (and your work) for it.

Hope you like this short lesson. Let me know if it was helpful or interesting; I’d love to hear from you.

The fine print: If you want to buy this painting or if you want to buy my CD on PLEIN AIR PAINTING, email me for payment details. I accept PayPal and personal checks, but I ship only to the U.S.A. Thanks.

Oh, and keep an eye on my blog for another free art giveaway next month. You might get lucky!

Today’s thought to smile about:
Free art lessons

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Blogger Holly Lombardo said...

THANK YOU for the's the BEST free gift one can get. Since I've started dabbling in acrylics (and have only done watercolors) the order that things are painted is so different, and so important!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Kellie Hill said...

Love this post- thanks so much!

5:18 PM  
Blogger VanDerHoekArt said...

Great step by step Tom! I love to see these, it helps clarify the thought process behind your painting.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Wow, this is like getting a memo, 'while you were out' you won the lottery. What a great painting, do you think that I will ever be that sophisticated, I'm lucky anyone even buys my work, it's not great, I just have a really high IQ so my idiotic work gives the impression of being great, when it fact it's just unfathomable to ordinary people, so, they feel compelled to buy it. I'd really like to actually be a great painter though, and not just an incomprehensible genius. -Carol

12:09 PM  
Blogger Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Free art lessons indeed. How lucky we are! This step by step block in is beautiful all the way through.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Mary Sheehan Winn said...

BTW it looks HUGE!

7:43 AM  

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