The painting process from start to finish

I’d like to show you one of the ways I use to create my paintings. In this example I am painting in water-mixable oils but the process would be very similar for watercolour or other mediums.

I took these photos (and quite a few more!) of this wonderful old farmhouse in Portugal. It was tucked away amongst residential tower blocks in Gaia which is on the south side of the river Douro with Porto on the north. It was such a strange building to find in the midst of the city, and was beautiful in the spring sunshine.

Step 1. Getting the composition right

With a number of photos to choose from I needed to decide on the right composition. I find the best way to do this is to remember why I was attracted to the scene in the first place, and to make that the key focus of the painting. For me it was the light on the wall with the deep shadow of the eaves and the colourful washing drying on the line. I wasn’t that interested in the setting (in the city) even though the quirky nature of this was of interest historically. Painting the city as a backdrop would have taken away from the building itself.
So, first step, a quick pencil thumbnail to decide what I wanted to put in and what I needed to omit or change. I settled on this…

Step 2. Tonal underpainting

I chose to paint the scene in water-mixable oils on a 5″ x 7″ piece of mountboard. I’d coated this with a cream-coloured gesso first. I’m preparing 20 paintings for an exhibition at the moment and all of them are the same small size and painted using my hand held Pokitbox.

I painted in the main structure with watered down Pyrrole Red. I’ve recently started using red for the drawing stage as some of it peaks through the later layers of paint and warms them and it is also a good foil for any greens. As well as doing a line drawing I scrubbed in the darker tonal areas to see if the overall design worked.

Step 3. The block-in

It was now time to come in with some thicker paint and to block in the local colours in each of the large areas. I always use a limited palette, and this time I used lemon yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, pyrrole red and vermillion for the warm colours, and cerulean and ultramarine for the cool colours. Oh, plus white.

Step 4. Continuing the block-in

I tried to keep to the tonal plan (darks on darks, mid-tones on mid-tones and lights on lights) as I finished the block in. Now everywhere was painted in.

Step 5. Finishing details

This is often the fun part, where I add as much or as little detail as is necessary. I always try to err on the side of too little rather than too much. Edgar Degas once said: “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning plain you end up boring people”. I hope I haven’t done that!

I hope you have enjoyed seeing my painting process.

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