Friday, July 4, 2014


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...mi ritrovai per una selva oscura.*

This morning I started in on a new 8" x 12" (20x30cm) panel, as is usual, I was making it up as I went along and it occurred to me that I could take some photos as it progressed and possibly show the steps in its realization. It's still not at its final state which will probably be reached tomorrow.

I decided to paint some woods on the right, and a field with a range of hills behind.

As you'll see, the panel was toned with a coat of transparent red oxide (OH) and liquin. This was done the other day, so it was completely dry. The grisaille is done with ultramarine and burnt umber (both Rembrandt). 

I began to think about perhaps having a road through a wood instead.

But I was still intending to keep the field and the hill. As you can see, things are more massed in than drawn.

Whoops! Where did the field and the hill go?

Nothing is ever set in stone in my paintings, whether a small study such as this or on a 48" x 72". I relish keeping all my options open for as long as possible.

By this stage the surface was so wet that I thought I'd give it some time to dry a bit. Had I been outside in the sun and wind, it would have dried very fast. But in the studio it's a bit slower.

One of the things that's valuable to do, and easy since we all have a phone within reach, is to take a black and white photo of a painting. It immediately helps pinpoint issues in terms of values.

To enable you to get a sense of how loose the grisaille really is, here's a detail.

Notice, too, how neutral in color the ultramarine and burnt umber mixture can be.

Because I wanted to let it rest for a bit, I distracted myself with another panel. A couple of years ago I had done a quick sketch, probably on the back of an envelope, of the moon rising over Plum Island. There was a lead-in created by a bit of the Merrimack River and by the local road. As you might expect, I have no idea where that sketch is now, but I remembered enough of the general layout so that it could serve as the basis for a study. The lane is now a busy road. But in time past it must have been a more country route. In any event, that's how I decided to depict it, as it looked perhaps a hundred years ago.

Here's what I made of it.

Relative to the first panel, this is very definitely drawn rather than massed. Right from the beginning the composition needed to be set. Because I used the panel as the brightest value, the moon doesn't really show up too well. Still, I'm quite pleased with this one.

But let's get back to the original one. 

Here I've strengthened some of the values, added some Permanent Brown Madder (Rembrandt) very thinly in places, put some violet in the shadows on the road, and generally tried to organize the material.

The last one from today shows the addition of some additional color, more value adjustment, and the beginning of the sense of a particular time of day. What, if anything, I'll put in the far distance I don't yet know. I like the sense of glare. There's much yet to be done.

This photo seems too yellow to me. I'll try to post the next steps tomorrow, if you'd like.

Happy painting! 

*From the beginning of Dante's Inferno, "...I found myself in a dark forest". 

The Ogunquit Summer School of Art
Ogunquit, Maine
 14-15 August 2014
27-28 September 2014
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4-12 September, Alkmaar, NL Contact me about this TWO PLACES REMAINING

Toronto 6-10 October 2014
Contact me about this. THIS CLASS IS FULL

Norway August 2015
Contact me to receive information as it becomes  available.

Wales  A possible 2015 workshop for the Welsh Academy of Art


  1. Thanks Donald. just the type of post that I have been waiting for, but would never have dared to ask .

    1. BT...You're quite welcome. I'm surprised you wouldn't have asked.

  2. doesn't that line from Dante's Inferno finish with something like "...where I had completely forgotten my way." If that's the one. Boy, is that perfect for some points in the painting.

    I'd love more to see this painting done...

    1. translation reads
      "Midway upon the journey of our life
      I found myself within a forest dark,
      For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

      This confused me as I had included the path from the start.

  3. Very helpful Donald! Thanks. I particularly like the shapes of the second one. Look forward to seeing the progress on both!

    1. Hi Eden...Thanks. The first one will get more work, but, as they are 'studies', I may leave the second one as is. Thanks, too, for forwarding the photos which I'll email you about later.

  4. Very interesting. Thanks for showing us the steps. Susan Lindblad

  5. Thanks, Susan, for stopping by.