Plein Air Painting Easels

Back to



  home easel reviews contact

August, 2008  Compartmentalizing Your Washes

I enjoy using loose areas of my paintings as foils for a more rendered focal point. These somewhat out-of-focus passages become the supporting actors for the headliner. At times it’s possible to wet the paper and handle all the looseness as one large passage. More often, each of the loose areas require a certain amount of individual interest, and the amount of attention I can pay to each area can be limited by the drying time.

To remedy this, I often intentionally compartmentalize my painting, finishing one wet into wet area before proceeding to the next. This allows me more time to render that area to the degree of completeness that I desire, at a manageable tempo.

There are some considerations when using this approach. One has to have a pretty clear picture of the finished product. Judging the values of the initial areas can be challenging with all that white paper around. A preliminary value study can be of great assistance. Also, one has to be cautious not to over-finish an area to the point that it competes or distracts from the main focal point.


The following demonstration is a good illustration of this approach.


Step One:painting


I chose a composition that provided an aerial perspective. This required me to keep the distant hills a bit fuzzy so that they would ultimately recede. So I start by wetting the upper area of the painting and charging in pigment grading from dark to light and warm to cool, reserving my coolest colors for the far distance (upper right). I use what will eventually be the road as a natural break between areas. I simultaneously work the middle passage using hotter warms and warmer greens.




Step Two:painting


I wet the area between the two completed sections, once again charging in pigment. As the area dries, I begin to add more pigment and less water, forming the rows of crops. I can afford a few of the edges of the crop rows to be hard, but I want most of them to blend. If they are two uniform and hard-edged they will draw too much attention and ruin the sense of distance.

paintingStep Three:

Now I put in the general tones of the walls and roof of the villa and create some hard edges by introducing the surrounding foliage. With just those hard edges and the white paper on the second story of the villa, I’ve already created a pretty arresting focal point.




paintingStep Four:

I mass in the extreme foreground with various warm earth tones. When that is dry, I paint a few hard, random strokes and spatter some paint in the lower right. Because it is the foreground, it can handle more detail than the upper two areas. This treatment of the foreground augments the over all feeling of distance.




Step Five:painting

It’s time to put the icing on the cake. I add some windows and details to the villa. It doesn’t take much. The contrast between the upper story of the villa and the dark background had already established a pretty solid center of interest.


If I were to do the painting over again, I would make a few changes. The center of interest is literally too “center” in the painting. It would have been stronger if I had redesigned the villa and moved that white area to the right and down a bit. Also, the road in the upper part of the painting is too arresting. I should have softened or lost most of those hard edges. Ah, well! Hindsight is always 20/20.

Nonetheless, I do feel that it pretty successfully demonstrates the technique I described earlier. I hope that this offers you a few new ideas that you can use as a springboard for that next masterpiece.

Happy Painting!