Every once in a while, I like to capture images of my paintings at different stages. It allows me to share my process with others, and at the same time it forces me to think about each step along the way.  In describing each step, I am forced to actually think about small details in my technique which, over time, have become instinctual. Here are 10 steps along the way in the creation of a painting of Duke Forest.

I find it very useful to toggle between works based on reference photos and those that are completely from memory/imagination. Many of my recent works are based on reference photos, including the piece documented here.  When I am working from a photo, my goal is never to create a replica of the photo. I want to capture the most important parts of the image, but also add an emotional element to the piece that is difficult to captured in a photo. Here is the reference photo that I used for this painting. I took this photo while hiking in Duke Forest here in Durham this Spring.

Above are three first steps for this painting.  You can see that I am focused on blocking in some of the light areas.  I don’t really try to match the colors from the photo, the goal is capture those areas with the lightest values. In the first image, I have blocked in some of the sky. In the second I have added some highlights to the path through the woods. Steps one and two where both completed with a brush. In the third image, you can see that I have started blocking in some of the light areas of foliage with a knife.

Now that a good portion of the light areas are blocked in, I start adding some of the shadow areas. I focus first on the darker areas of foliage with a deep teal color.  Next I add some depth by adding some areas in a slightly lighter value of the same color. In the 3rd image above, I have started added some of the deepest shadows as well as blocking in some of the tree trunks. Notice that I’m not following the reference photo exactly.  I am more concerned with creating a nice composition then with replicating the photo.

The changes from here on out seem a little more subtle. At this point in my work, I am trying to add a bit more detail, but not too much as I want the painting to be loose and spontaneous. I add a bit of yellow-orange to the lighter areas just to brighten it up. I am not concerned with the colors in the reference photos, just the value contrasts, so I am free to use what ever colors will create a vibrant energetic piece. I also added some even lighter values in the foliage to create highlights. In the 2nd image here, I have started to add some highlights to the tree trunks, and have started adding a little more definition to the path. In the 3rd image, I have added some texture to the sky and to pull some of the sky colors down into the trees. I have also used some of the same sky colors as highlights on the path.

At this point, I am just making a few minor adjustments.  I felt that too much of the sky was showing, so I added some more foliage, and called it done.  Even though the size of this piece is 11″ x 14″ I treated it as a quick study, only focusing on the most important features of the scene. I completed this in one morning – I’m using it as my ‘daily painting’ for today.