Wednesday, April 28, 2010


MARIAH, 9X12 oil on canvas ©2010

I will be posting a 30X40 painting in the next day or so, but in the mean time, I did a small landscape painting for the "Salute to Summer" show opening in June at the Jackson Wyoming Trailside Gallery. I love how cloud cover can quickly come in and cover the peaks of mountains. It's what happened the last time I visited the Tetons in Wyoming. In the distance you could see that it was clearing and wouldn't be long till the sun was back. It was a very windy day, so I named it the name of the wind, the same as the old song of the same name. Total painting time, 3 1/2 hours.

When I first started painting landscapes, it would take me days to produce one of these. As usual, I was getting lost in the details, instead of concentrating on the light effect, which is the essence of so many successful landscapes. I would get lost in painting the pine trees, being a slave to my reference, instead of using my photos as a jumping off point. Now I paint my areas in as general shapes, puzzle pieces which fit into each other, leaving the details until the effect was there already. Decide wher your focal point is and let the other areas in your painting play seconds to it. I wanted the focal point of this piece to be the area highlighted in detail #3 below. It has the areas of biggest contrast, and most detail. Everything else should support it, not compete with it. Don't kill a painting with extraneous details!

I get a lot of positive feedback on the close up details I post. So, here are some close ups of some of the more interesting passages.....

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

Hope you find this post helpful and interesting. Thanks for checking in!! --Steve


Jeremy Elder said...

Very helpful - detail three could be a painting on it's own.

Vicky said...

I've been 'lurking' for quite some time and have to say I've enjoyed the painting demos immensely. Your detail is amazing and yet you say you have to hold yourself back...I just have to chuckle at that! Could you refer a good reference book for painting light/reflective light? No, I'm not blind and can see my sources clearly but you look like you paint with the sunshine itself! LOVE this landscape!

Steve Atkinson said...

Thanks Jeremy, glad I can always count on you for your feedback!

Vicky, welcome out of the "shadows" and into the light. Thanks for your generous compliment. Gosh, recommending a good painting book is a tough assignment. It's kind of like asking what kind of bucket to use to empty a swimming pool =0)

One thing I've found that doesn't work, is to print out a copy of a painting you love, and sleep with it under your pillow. You only end up with a very wrinkled print. Some of the books I go to over and over again are, John Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. It was published in 1929 and has been the bible to many of the best landscape painters since then. Some of the language is dated, but not so much as to make it unintelligible. This is the book I study and go back to over and over again. Every time I do, I find more jewels. Things I never noticed before because I wasn't ready for them. Other good books are Richard Schmid's Alla Prima (expensive but worth it). Far more useful to me are some of the DVD's that master painters have released where you can watch them paint. Scott Christensen has a DVD called "Three Landscape Studies". David Curtis has a few that I really like, A Light Touch, Capturing the Moment in Oils and Light in the Landscape. Matt Smith's Painting the Sonoran Desert. Any of Richard Schmid's plein air DVD's (June, November, May), and Jim Wilcox's When You Can't Paint Out.

But Vicky, you can learn so much just doing what you are doing....Visiting artist's websites and blogs. Some of my favorites, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, Bill Anton, Jennifer McChristian, Kathryn Stats, Frank Serrano, Josh Elliot, Scott Christensen, Joe Paquet, husband and wife team of Brian Blood and Laurie Kersie, Calvin Liang (has a great book of his paintings available),Rusty Jones, Matt Smith (incredible painter, but his website sucks now), Marc Hanson (wow).

The best way I've found to see the light and to be able to paint it is to take workshops. Jennifer McChristian is one of the best. So is Marc Hanson. Scott Christensen is pricey and his workshops are too big, but if you apply yourself you can learn a great deal from him! Joe Paquet teaches a very structured workshop. Some find it very constraining but if you are a person who does well with doing it his exact way you can become a very very good painter.

Above all, go outside as much as you can. Push yourself to paint the values you see and compare values to one another and you have the best teacher of all....Mother Nature. There is no substitute for brush mileage.

happy painting, Steve

Ruth Ann Greenberg said...

Your plein air work is beautiful! I have a question though. How do you decide on the value of the initial stroke you put down outside. Always darkest dark and then you compare the remaining values? In Scott Christensen videos he mentions you can't compare tones holding up your palette knife outside. So how do you and he make the first value judgements? Thanks.

Ruth Ann Greenberg
bethesda, Md.

Steve Atkinson said...

Hi Ruth Ann,

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are location painters. And for me, as usual there isn't one right way to do it. If you think about it, it's kind of like asking artists if they start by painting the sky first, or the foreground. Different artists will tell you different things. Usually though, I will start with the area I want to be my focal point. It will usually have the lightest light, or the darkest dark, or both. Start there with your darkest shadow mass. I've taken workshops from some very good plein air painters that put in all of their shadow masses first. This way they are able to correctly get down the atmospheric perspective right away. Then they paint in the sunlit areas. It doesn't work for me. Just put something down and go from there. Constantly compare values to each other, and ask yourself if what you have put down on your panel is close to what you see in front of you. If the answer is no, ask what's wrong and scrape off the offending area. DON'T EVER BE AFRAID TO SCRAPE!! The best plein air painters do it all the time. What you've painted isn't so precious that you can't repaint it. But your question was even more specific than that. "How do you decide on the value of the initial stroke you put down outside?" Honestly, it just comes from experience. From having painted and failed at hundreds of plein air studies. I've failed in every way possible dozens of times. I get the paintings home and find that what I thought was a successful painting is too light, too dark, too much color, not enough color, too warm or cool, inconsistent light effects, too much detail in places that didn't need any detail at all. Edges that were too hard or soft, bad compositions, doing paintings of things that didn't deserve to be a painting, or my favorite, doing paintings that were really three paintings at once and lacked any kind of focus or focal point.

My long winded and rather rambling answer is that you just have to get out there and log that brush mileage! I remember reading once that Robert Bateman, when they would ask him how to get better, used to tell his students that painting required you to make a thousand mistakes before you would be good, so they better get busy and make them. Truer words were never spoken.

I always try to look at having failed at something as a very good thing. Not only does it mean I learned some thing new, but that I was probably trying something new in the first place, and stretching myself as an artist. And that's always a good thing!

Happy painting, S.

cloeyprogers said...

Hello Steve,
Wanted to let you know that you have been guiding me thru a very ambitious painting. A 4X4 of Indians on horseback. I have been reading your comments and studying your paintings. I have used a lot of techniques and refined how I did things from your comments. I am very greatful for your blog. I have a long way to go, only have the sky/clouds in and currently fighting with back/foreground coloring. Thank you again for all the instruction/help that you are providing a fledgling artist. Douglas

Steve Atkinson said...

Hey Douglas,good for you for aiming high and teaching yourself what you need to know to get better! I'm sure you know, there ain't no shortcuts. You just have to keep trying and know that all of us artists have a closet full of successful attempts at how NOT to paint a picture. You'll be the same I'm sure. If you haven't seen my day by day demo of "First String", make sure to take a moment and read it. It's my best attempt to teach the importance of keeping it simple and saving those details to the end of the painting. Get your canvas covered as soon as possible to be able to gauge your progress and success. Best of Luck!