From Start to Finish – Completing the Masterpiece

After you have completed the underpainting and it’s thoroughly dry you may want to continue with another coat or progress to color.  There’s a huge world to discover about color and I would encourage you to study it in depth.  Color wheels are helpful, but simply playing and practicing with color will give you the insight you’ll need.  However, there is a fool proof technique which will never steer you wrong.  As I said earlier resource material is vital.  This includes photographs of nature with the colors you plan on using. I work strictly from photographs to mix my colors and I match them exactly.  I mix and then take a dab with the palette knife and directly match it against the photograph.  If it’s off I mix it until it’s perfect.  It’s time consuming and I may spend an hour simply mixing color and that may be for a small area.  You see, in nature, colors come together in perfect harmony.  When I mix this way, what looks to be blue in the photograph, actually is a violet on the palette.  Colors have the wonderful ability to play with each other.  What you think is one color, when placed next to another can change drastically.  I never leave it to my imagination because those colors will trick me.  I remember the first time I painted snow I painted it white, but snow is every color except white.  

When starting with this next segment you’ll want to start painting the background first.  This could be the sky, a mountain range, whatever is in the distance.  Again, using your resource material, match the colors to your palette exactly.  You’ll do this process each day you paint.  If I mix too much color I don’t save it for the next day’s work, but clean up the palette daily.  Oils don’t keep well and will have a film within 24 hours.  When mixing your colors they should still be relatively thin.  Once the color is close, I apply some to the palette knife and then hold it against the resource material until it’s a perfect match.  When you apply this coat to the painting it won’t necessarily look the same as the resource.  This won’t happen until you’ve built up a few layers. Once you’re ready to lay down the color try to move quickly.  Push forward until the entire piece has color to include your subject and foreground.  This is still very preliminary work and detail is of no importance.  You’re not looking for perfect color or texture, but simply a foundation.  When you’re finished, step away from the work and study it, standing from various observation points.  Then get your mirror and look at the work’s reflection.  Make any obvious corrections needed.  Every day I check my work this way, catching any needed changes early, and giving me direction for the work for the next day. 

Within a day or so the painting should be converted to color.  Once that is finished, mix the colors and match as usual, but don’t add quite as much turpentine.  From now until the work is completed, my pace slows down drastically.  I’ll mix the colors but probably only for the sky or distant mountains, not the entire painting.  You can always mix more color if you progress further. The colors should be used with less turpentine and ought to be the consistency of soft butter.  It’s time to start building layers, each layer will add depth, richness and intensify the color.  This will continue daily until the piece is completed.  Don’t push this period, you’re not looking for speed but your vision for the work.  Once an area is to your satisfaction, progress forward.  Sometimes even if the area isn’t finished you may need to give the entire painting another coat to get clarification of your direction.  Then go back to wherever you were.  When the entire background is complete and you have a good rough-in of the foreground, move to your subject.  This is where your colors should intensify, drawing your eye to it.  When the subject is near completion, move to finishing the foreground.  This area supports the painting, but should not demand the observers attention.  When this is well on its way, the fun begins.  It’s time to make your painting pop.  Again intensify your colors adding surprises for the viewer, use a fan brush to delight the eye with texture.  Fan brushes are great for adding carefree strokes.  I use it often for grass, water, or a wispy horse’s mane.  When this is accomplished stand back and study the work.  Does everything guide your eye toward the subject? Check it with your mirror.  Ask yourself if it’s pleasing to you?  Does it make you smile and does it smile back at you?  If so you’ve done your job, enjoy the satisfaction, enjoy the moment!  This is what you live for! 


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