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Direct painting and quick capture (as if we were painting plein air) of hazy morning light, open valley, green-clad hills, and far mountains.


The scenery near Telluride, Colorado in the United States is spectacular. So how can we capture what we see in a small 9x12" panel? Design, value control, and intent all play an important role in making this oil demo go quickly. Finishing details can take a while (and not all are shown as to small tiny adjustments), however the final few marks are shown and the majority of the steps used to create this painting. This demo should answer a question I get often, which is how can students go 'beyond the photo'?

All media notes: It's fine to just copy this demo, but read my thoughts below on MY INTENT and how I prepared to make this painting. The steps below let me create quickly and know what I want to paint and how to modify/capture a scene. This takes practice. Intent is important to define when you make your own art from your own material. You can use a scene you have experienced that is similar in feel or look, or modify part of the demo to make this scene your own.

Step 1: Try to recall a beautiful scene you have experienced and wanted to paint. DON'T look at a photo!! You can look at this later, but not when making first artistic choices.

2: Write down a few points to visually emphasize or explore. In the case of this demo I wanted to emphasize the vertical nature of the mountains and explore the hazy light I saw. Make a few color dots or do a value design if you want to before starting your project.

3: Make a value plan as to the spread of light. In the case of this painting most of the subject was light, only a few marks were dark. This helps to mix accurate color and paint with purpose. You can even decide on a percentage plan, such as 'only 10% of my artwork will use dark. Since light is my subject it makes sense to have 90% of my art in the light range. Remember that unequal values create excitement and look better. This demo shows about 5% very light, 80% light/medium, 10% dark. A good unequal spread of values. For more on value and planning, see the Core videos on Nature Elements, or Library Fundamentals collection.

4: Don't fall into the pitfall of too much green, or really too much yellow. Yellow should only be present in the 'near plane' or the foreground. Any hillside yellow will undermine the atmosphere and hazy look we are trying to achieve. Remember to look for ways to add red, or your mostly blue painting will not look right. Red used correctly almost disappears in this scene however it's an essential element.

5: Finally, look at the photo after imagining your important elements you want to showcase in your painting. This 'photo later' mind-trick helps me to declutter and leave out pointless information.

Watercolor artists notes:

This painting is a rare case of why you might want to use frisket or masking fluid. The small thread of the waterfall and lacy glacier on the mountain could be masked out. Just put the fluid on and let fully dry to preserve the white of the paper. I don't personally have the patience to use frisket. I like to 'paint around' my super-whites. Other options for re-capturing the whites are scratching out with a razor blade (when art is dry) or using gouache. Gouache is a problem here because the blue/purple mountains are very light and gouache might look very dull iso added later. Gouache only works well I find when going over medium or dark watercolor paint. Aside from the 'preserve white' issue, this image will be a lot of fun to create - allow paint to merge and flow. Go a bit wild with wet-in-wet dots as the design is fairly straightforward and thus flowing paint will be good!