Techniques and Tips

Step by Step: Sketch to Finished Painting

Step by Step: Sketch to Finished Painting


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When Richard McKinley creates a landscape painting, he likens it to a dance, a push-pull between the artist’s feelings for the place and the tendencies of the medium. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he creates his painting, Acequia, from beginning to end, and what occupies his mind during each stage.

Study: On site, McKinley looks for a focal point in the
studies he creates for all of his landscape paintings,
and he often finds them where there is the greatest
amount of contrast. This can be a matter of color,
value, and edges.
Drawing: At this stage, McKinley takes visual
measurements of the subject, but he also gets to
know the subject again by examining and responding
to his study. He makes a horizontal line for the horizon,
a vertical one to indicate the central axis of the work,
and several diagonal lines to show the progression of
the space from fore- to background. He also indicates
dark, medium, and light values, but is careful not to put
too many marks on the surface.

Underpainting: McKinley builds up an underpainting
with thin layers of the dominant or complementary colors
in the composition, always keeping value in mind. He
then puts in the darkest darks and lightest lights—“book
ends” for the painting that allow him to know the
boundaries of color extremes.
Midway through: Now it’s all about the gradual application
of color. McKinley views a work in progress like a mosaic.
Colors from the underpainting peek through across the
painting, and he continues to build up color in thin layers.

Finished work: Likening himself to Oliver Twist, McKinley
is always inclined to add more and more to a painting. To
stop, he reminds himself of the original impetus for the
painting. He makes sure he finds the point where the piece
stands up to that original idea, and he makes sure the work
is made well enough with sound techniques to last.

Painting landscapes is a matter of distilling a wide array of visual information into a cohesive whole. Going through McKinley’s process allowed me to understand the motivation behind each painting stage. All the resources youll find below take step-by-step even further–bringing you the painting action in real time via art workshop videos; top instruction books and DVDs, and so much more! Enjoy!


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