LESSON TWO - STARTING YOUR PAINTING
Now that we've selected a scene using our viewfinder, done some thumbnails to verify we like the shapes and composition, let's move on to several methods to start our painting. There are many ways to start which will work, the good news, and it's best to try them all to see which clicks with you and which you like the best, and gives you good results.
Solid color underpainting
Many artists like to "tone" the canvas to set the mood of the scene. You can use a neutral like raw sienna, or something vibrant like the yellow Richard Rochkovsky here in Hawaii likes to use. Often hints of the underpainting can be left uncovered to add to the effect. I prefer an orange/gold undertone, maybe from my days in Seattle where I knew I would be painting a lot of green on top, the complementary color (we'll have a lesson on color later). Here are a couple of blank canvasses I painted with this method. I use a thinned acrylic on a gessoed canvas, and this can then be painted over with either acrylics, or oils. Often those using pastels get this effect by using various tones of paper.
One color block in
This is the method taught by Mitch Albala (see his site and book reference in the art links page). Choose a color that will emphasize the scene. On a moody day, this might be a shade of blue. On a normal day I like something like raw sienna that has a nice glow, yet is strong enough to show the darks. This method should be used to quickly draw in the composition you have selected to paint. Here is the photo I'll use for the example.
Next to the photo is a raw sienna block in of the major shapes emphasizing the light and dark areas. You can push the light and dark areas (values), even more if you want. This will thus provide the major structure for the actual painting process as you choose colors for each of the various shapes.
Detailed drawing block in
You can also go to the next level past the thumbnail and do a detailed drawing before you start to paint, to lay out the shapes, lights and darks, and details. This can be done over a blank canvas, or a toned canvas. Here is my drawing done from the image (remember, on site you'll be looking at the scene or section you have chosen to paint).
Local color block in
Local color is the colors you see and interpret in front of you. Kevin MacPherson teaches this as a good method. Choose the average color for each shape, and fill that in. The next step then becomes to modify each shape color lighter and darker to show the direction of the light and provide nice contrasts. On the right above is a local color block in.
Drawing with paint
If you've watched any of the Richard Robinson demos, you'll see his favorite way of starting a painting is to draw in the main features with blue paint. Here is an example:
The benefit of all of the methods above is that you'll have a quick start and if the light changes, you'll have the basics down and can continue with the scene you had in mind. I also always take a reference photo when I decide what to paint so I have a record for touchups in the studio or if it starts to rain and I have to run for cover.
Here is the painting I did of the scene from this view. I cropped the view a little on the right hand side when I did this scene on location versus the photo. I used the one tone underpainting to get started.