Painting Methods

For me, the fundamental procedures have remained relatively constant and any alterations have to do mostly with execution. Many of my practices are the same as they were in art school with some modification but there have been additions due to my specializing in landscape. I almost always paint on standard masonite panels in this country, because more of them may be stored in my customized truck or RV. They are also less vulnerable to damage than canvas and I prefer the irregular surface quality. I rough up the surface with sandpaper to give it a tooth and apply gesso, which isolates and keeps the paint from degrading the masonite. The acrylic gesso is sometimes tinted with Yellow Ochre acrylic, or some other warm color, then applied roughly to provide a texture which holds the paint. I use a gesso that absorbs paint due to the introduction of marble dust during its manufacture, (or I add marble dust). This makes available to me the additional technique of dry-brush early in the painting process. Dry-brush is the dragging of a loaded brush across the surface so that the paint skips. For many years I washed my brushes with soap and water, but now I use kerosene, called Paraffin in England, because it leaves an oily residue on the bristles which retains their resilience. A turps cup is fine for washes, but to clean a brush more thoroughly when changing colors or values, I have a larger container three quarters filled with turpentine which has a mesh strainer. My palette at present consists of seven colors; Cadmium Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian and usually Permalba White. I add or subtract from my palette frequently but the overall aim is to keep it as spare as possible. I use Liquin or turpentine to get the paint to flow. At times I have found it instructive to perform limited palette experiments using only three primaries and white because I'm forced away from thoughtless habitual choices. The studio section of my RV is where I normally paint on trips in this country but if I paint outdoors, here or abroad, I use a Gloucester or a Jullian French easel. The Gloucester easel has legs that spread wider than the French easel and therefore is sturdier in breezy conditions, on rocky terrain or on steep angles such as hillsides but the French easel contains painting supplies, is more compact and is less time consuming to set up. When I paint in the studio I paint from models, still life, enlarge outdoor paintings, from memory and sometimes even photographic reference. I use photos mainly for incidentals or perhaps to experiment with color theory or as reference for inconvenient subjects, such as animals or figures in motion. To judge color, I use a technique called scanning. In order to determine the color of a mass in nature, I look near it and see it out of the corner of my eye, in my peripheral vision. The color I observe in the first moments of seeing in this way is the color I paint. I sometimes use a method called spectrum painting. As values grade from very light (clouds, surf etc.) into shadow, they can move down through the color spectrum. From almost White to Yellowish, then Yellow Red, Red, Red Purple etc. When a poker is taken from a fire, the colors act in this fashion. I use this technique for the halo around a light in fog, for instance. Counter change is another useful tool. A telephone pole, for instance, against a stand of dark trees will be light in value. The pole at the same value against the sky will appear to be dark. This phenomenon occurs frequently in landscape painting. I have a tendency to lean verticals to one side or the other. This can be seen and corrected by the use of a mirror. And I squint when I look out at nature. Van Gogh said to look through your eyelashes in order to see the big picture, the big patterns. Simplicity is the goal. Complexity is easy, anyone can be complex by thoughtlessly copying details (idle industry) but to create a beautiful design, an unambiguous interpretation, requires intelligent strategies. Luck helps too but, as someone once said, "luck is what happens when opportunity crosses the path of preparation." Someone else said that, "The only place luck precedes work is in the dictionary."
Painted with a limited palette

Limited Palette... White, Ultramarine blue, English Red, Yellow Ochre

                                      The following is a step-by-step demonstration of my current method (2014) for outdoor painting. The steps are essentially the same as in earlier works but the composition and drawing happen in my mind before the painting begins and the emphasis is on color, brushwork and palette knife applications. In the first image I'm roughly drawing the shape of the mountain using the sky paint. Photographs by Judy Howells...                                             Photograph. The painting will have many shifts in position, eliminations and additions in order to arrive at the composition I have in mind. ("Nature is always wrong." James Whistler)...                                             Here the focus and mountain values and colors are established...                                             The foreground and lower portion of the mountain are indicated...                                           Closeup showing brushwork...                                           Nearing completion...                                           At work with Alfie observing (I built the easel)...                                           Finished painting under warmer indoor lighting. Oil, 24" x 30"...