Monday Morning Art School: stop flailing

An efficient plan for fast outdoor painting in oils.
Camden harbor, by Carol L. Douglas

Sometimes people ask me how we manage to get so many paintings done during an event. We avoid what my friend Brad Marshall called “flailing around.” That means those times when you seem to lose your way. We’ve all done it, when apparently everything we know falls out the bottom of our mind. I’ve written a simple protocol to avoid this. If you always work in this order, you’re less likely to flail around.

1. Set up your palette with all colors out, organized in a rainbow pattern; may be done before going out.
Putting your pigments in the same spots each time speeds up your process. And putting out all of them when you start ensures that you develop the painting based on what you see, rather than on what’s at hand.
Beach saplings, by Carol L. Douglas
2. Value drawing of the scene in question, in your sketchbook.
If you do this on your canvas and then paint over it, you won’t have it to refer back to when the light changes or you need to restate your darks.
3. Crop drawing, identify and strengthen big shapes.
If you start by filling in a little box, you only allow yourself one way to look at the composition. Instead, draw what interests you first, and then contemplate how it might best be boxed into a painting.

Parrsboro sunrise, by Carol L. Douglas
4. Transfer drawing to canvas with paint as a monochromatic grisaille.
This allows you to draw with a brush and check your composition’s values.
5. Underpaint big shapes making sure value, chroma and hue are correct. Thin with OMS.
This underlayer should be thin, but not soupy, so it can accept top layers without making mud. You don’t want a lot of oil in this layer as it can lead to cracking in the future.

Eastport harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
6. Second layer: divide big shapes and develop details. A slightly thicker layer.
This is the body of your painting, without a lot of detail. Almost pure paint without either medium or heavy impasto. Note: for some painters, this is combined with the last layer.
7. Third and last layer: use medium and more paint, adding highlights and impasto.
This is the final layer, the one with painterly flourishes. Controlled use of medium here results in an even, bright, tough final surface.