Process - Painting from Photographs

Whether still life, portraiture or landscape, an artist needs to view a live version their subject in order to know it fully. A landscape painter must spent time outside to have the secrets of the land revealed. The landscape has many personalities, changes very quickly and reveals its secrets slowly. It takes patience and perception to see what she has to offer.

In the past I've spent many hours in the Everglades and in areas around Marco Island painting. I like responding directly to the landscape. My usually practice is to "block out" the painting outside, but take it back to the studio for further interpretation. Sometimes, however, it's necessary to work from photographs. This is fine as long as you took the photograph yourself and understand a photographs limitations. It's not a good idea to use someone else's photograph for many reasons, but that's a subject for another day! Photographs flatten the scene, and reduce the value range, so you'll have to make up for this in the painting.

I'm going to use the above photograph to start a new studio painting. I want the painting to be about the palm tree, so I'm going to shorten and push back the surrounding pines. There's a nice dark in the front that I'll carry through to the back, and some palmetto bushes to set off the palm. The light sky makes a nice negative coming into the foliage. Let's get started!
First mix up a nice dark use it to block out everything but the lightest portions of the composition. I use a mix of the warm red and blue on my palette, like quinacridone crimson and ultramarine blue. If it's too purple I'll mix in a little brown or green to keep it neutral. Using a fairly dry brush I scrub the shape of the dark trees and bushes into the dark canvas. You can barely see the forms, but that's OK. After I'm satisfied with the dark pattern, I very roughly block out the light sky. This is only the first stage, and the painting will be completed by many layers of paint as the forms are built.
Now it's time for a value check. This painting will be mostly darkish midtones, with a smaller portion being light sky and the smallest portion being the darkest darks. I'll take a break if it's going well at this point.