View Full Version : After the Storm WIP

Donna T
02-09-2009, 12:01 PM
I thought I'd try another of my latest idea: Five minute sketch, Few notes and a Photo. We had an ice storm recently and when the weather changed I saw a really beautiful sunset out my window. I knew I would never be able to capture it with my pastels - the light was changing quickly - so I took one photo, did a five minute sketch to establish the basic composition and values and then spent a few more minutes trying to describe what I saw.


This time I also tried to give myself clues for how to apply my colors. I saw that the distant trees appeared to have dark blue-greens on top of a dark purple base so I wrote "dark blue-green/dark purple". That way I'll know that those trees are not just one color, they have a specific color combination and I can apply my pastels in the right order. I'm also going to train myself to write the main concept or theme of the scene in caps so that I'll remember better what specific thing I want to emphasize. It's so easy to get distracted or lose that initial "wow" feeling. I didn't do much for the cloud shapes here because the light was going and I hoped that I could get what I need from the photo. I did write down what colors I saw in the clouds because I didn't trust the camera to see what I saw!

My next step was to do another sketch to work out the composition now that I wasn't rushed. I decided not to look at the photo yet. It will stay in my camera until I really need it. I'm afraid that if I look at it now it will influence the composition more than I want it to. I did a pastel and turpeniod underpainting on my watercolor paper coated with white Art Spectrum Primer. I move and push the pastel around with a cheap bristle brush and use a paper towel to get back to the white if I've put the pastel on too heavy or in the wrong place. Here it is on my easel:


I usually like to start on the sky since it has such an effect on all the rest of the colors. I learned the hard way that putting in a light snowy foreground first can be disastrous when loose sky colors rain down on it later! :rolleyes: Now I'm ready to look at my photo to get an idea of what that sky looked like:


I'm really surprised to see that the cloud colors are not as I observed and I'm very glad that I took notes. My notes say that I saw red-violets at the base that progressed to lavender and then blue-lavender at the top. The photo barely shows some pale pinkish areas and the clouds look flatter than I recall. I don't have the light red-violet I wanted so I have to shift towards pink. Definitely the ugly stage!


I'm putting on the cloud colors and using a Viva paper towel to lightly blend them and fill the tooth. One of my favorite artists, Marc Hanson, wrote about this technique and I like it a lot. I like the way it allows for subtle layering without ending up with a ton of pastel in the sky. I'm never comfortable with chunky skies and like to keep them as thin as possible.

When I'm fairly happy with the sky I start on the distant mountain and work forward towards the foreground. Other than looking at the photo for the sky, which wasn't all that helpful, I haven't felt the need to look at it again. (Am I making progress? :D ) So far, my notes and sketch are telling me all I need to know. Besides, I used the zoom when I took the shot and it shows things much closer than my painting. Much closer means more detail - not where I want this to go!

Here's where I am today:


Lots more work to do in the weeds and I'm going to have to put some snow in the foreground. In reality there were some pale golds in the weeds but I think I'll keep them to a minimum so those colors won't compete with the sky. My main inspiration, according to my notes was SKY-CLOUD COLOR and I'm going to try to stick with it. I'll need to crop and soften edges but that comes later. That middle tree needs to be straightened - it was windy but not that windy. Thanks for looking and of course any and all C&C is welcome!

02-09-2009, 12:30 PM
Great WIP! Lots of good tips and suggestions and a great reminder of how limiting photos can be.

Nice painting, too!


02-09-2009, 01:02 PM
Donna.... That is really going to be lovely.... what a neat way to prepare yourself for a painting, thinking it out so well ahead of time is terrific (it probably would save me a lot of wasted pastel!). I like what you've done so far!... Donna R.

Winny Kerr
02-09-2009, 06:25 PM
Oh what a great demo Donna. will keep watching your progress. I need to draw a lot more and plan my paintings a lot better. I tend to adhock it too often and then get stuck, thanks for reminding me. I love how you used the best parts of the photo and changed the whole composition into a really nice painting, flows so well. How do you like using watercolor paper with pastel primer? What thickness, the 300 lb cold pressed? I use matboard with clear pastel primer and it gives a more solid feel. Often I use a dark brick red color as my depth color for most landscapes. Very nice. Winny

02-09-2009, 06:26 PM
I love your progression! I need to carry a sketch book with me always - looking forward to seeing your next installment. :)


02-09-2009, 07:23 PM
Thanks so much for posting this WIP. You are giving me great hope. You've got a wonderful start here and I can't wait to see the finished piece. I really like how you used the photo for a start but followed your own artistic plan for the painting. Unless you use special filters, there is no way for a camera to capture the colors in a sunset (or sunrise) and the colors in the land. Your notes are a great way to work. I really am going to have to work on this myself. This one is going to be great!

02-09-2009, 07:48 PM

This method that you've come up with is such a great idea! (I have to try it too).
Thanks for posting all of your notes, sketches, underpaintings, etc. This, to me, has inestimable value - to see the underpinnings, the starts, of the painting, as well as the finished work.

So far, your painting looks very nice. I really like the sky. I know you're not finished yet. I'm looking forward to seeing your progress.


Kathryn Wilson
02-09-2009, 09:55 PM
I'm loving what I am seeing - a very informative WIP. Way to do Donna!

02-10-2009, 09:16 AM

I love the structured approach you are taking to this project, it seems to be working well for you - the WIP looks good, I can't wait to see the finished picture. I must try and remember to have a notebook with me next time I'm out and about with my camera.

Paula Ford
02-10-2009, 12:26 PM
Wonderful Donna! I love all the steps you took and the thinking associated with them. Love it! Very informative.

02-10-2009, 12:30 PM
Great idea to make those notes....I bet it really helps. This is coming along nicely...I like how you have the subtle line in the snow snaking back to the trees and stuff. Excellent start! And beautiful view, by the way!


Donna T
02-10-2009, 02:02 PM
Thanks so much, everyone! I know that taking notes isn't something new, it's just new to me.

Winny, this is on 300lb. hot pressed paper. Cold pressed is too hard for me to work on - I fight all those little pits and bumps. I should mention, there is a failed painting on the back of this one - I just put primer on the other side. :D I've even re-primed a painted side. I love this paper!

Well, here's where I am. Not happy with the foreground at all (can't I just skip it?) My husband thinks I need some grass or something and I just don't like the color of the snow to begin with. Any thoughts or help would be appreciated! This is cropped to 10 1/2 x12.


It's a little brighter IRL but there's no sunshine here today and my Photoshop attempts only make it worse.


02-10-2009, 03:47 PM
:clap: So glad you posted this the way you did! I often use watercolor paper, as that was what was doing before I got hooked on pastels. I love that paper, and the prossess! I like the cold-press paper, and find that if the little spots bother you, it helps to do the underpainting in watercolor over the colorfix primer, and it knocks back the white for you. Lately all I have been useing is the watercolor paper. I really like how you planned your painting and think it turned out well. If the foregrond bothers you, I remeber thinking a bit of darker valued snow in some area's would help, and maybe a few blades of grass in shadow, too---but it is nice as it is, too. Thanks for this really good post!

Susan Jenkins
02-10-2009, 03:56 PM
Love your approach to this. I'm experimenting with doing sketches and notes as well. I love the mood to this one!! Beautiful!

don't I remember you saying that you didn't work out of your head and vary from the original image too much?? If so... I think you have disproven that!!
Lovely Painting!

Kathryn Wilson
02-10-2009, 04:06 PM
Love this comp Donna! I do agree with your hubby, some little bits of grasses here and there through the foreground could lead us into the painting (ya know, like little bits of breadcrumbs, follow the yellow brick road, type thing)

Winny Kerr
02-10-2009, 04:32 PM
I must try that water color paper for a change. 300 lb hot pressed. I know the cold pressed has those little bumps and I don't like that too much either.
We learn new things every day don't we, its great. Winny

Donna T
02-10-2009, 06:08 PM
Thanks Ida, Susan, Kat and Winny. I really appreciate your feedback. You are right - I do need some grass or something in that foreground. Hopefully I won't overdo it!


Donna T
02-11-2009, 09:45 AM
I took your suggestions and added some grass to the foreground and also darkened the bottom a little. Did I add enough? Too much? Thanks again for sticking with me through this!



Kathryn Wilson
02-11-2009, 09:47 AM

Susan Jenkins
02-11-2009, 09:54 AM
ditto... perfect!
love this one Donna!

Paula Ford
02-11-2009, 10:04 AM
Ditto to all the dittos!! PERFECT!!

02-11-2009, 11:16 AM
beautiful finish!

02-11-2009, 11:24 AM
You know, sometimes when I sign on late I get to see more of the process. I was going to have to wait till you took a photo on a brighter day but you went for it and resolved the problems. Donna it's gorgeous and THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR METHODS, it's extremely helpful, especially as the plein aire season is just around the snow piles and iced limbs...

Let me ask you and the others.... what if the trees in the middle ground left were a bit more "blurred" or that snow line was softened a bit? Your notes will surely indicate it. It seems odd to me that this particular line was sharper than the one in the foreground.

Oh wait - have I mentioned this is just nitpicking - you can sign and frame this as is... but it's what I noticed if I had to look at it for a dear friend like yourself.

Anyway... you never asked for my two cents... but here you go.

Smile and keep up the process. it's working!


Donna T
02-11-2009, 11:47 AM
Thanks Kat, Susan, Paula, Betsy and Barb! You "guys" are the best!

Barb, Nitpick - please! I have tried to soften those trees and the snow line and have to adimit I really don't know if I'm doing it right! How would you do it? Do you bring some of the sky over the trees just at the edge and maybe use your little finger to blend the edges? Sometimes I just get mud so I guess I'm a little hesitant. But you're right - the photo shows those areas as distinct shapes and they shouldn't be because they're not where I want the eyes to linger. I learn from nitpicking so don't ever hold back!


george c martins
02-12-2009, 08:48 AM
Hi Donna

Great WIP...and honestly, I'm loving it....plus, love the last satge you gave at your piece....


02-12-2009, 09:17 AM
What a great WIP. I love the way this piece turned out. The little pieces of grass are just what the doctor ordered - they finish the whole thing off wonderfully. It sure was nice to see the entire progression of this painting, from notes to finish. You did an amazing job of going with your artistic vision, instead of what the photo said was there. Beautiful!

02-12-2009, 11:00 AM
Donna - try using a harder pastel that matches the sky and slightly glaze it into the tree. Or I personally appreciate the good ol' finger tip with a light touch.

Either works... Put you finger into the cold snow and drag it up into the view above. Clean said finger each time you lightly drag it - or else you will get mud.

But try to remember the mud is frozen in this photo... zen.... Barb

Donna T
02-12-2009, 12:10 PM
Thanks George, Kym and Barb! I hope some of this has been helpful or at least gives you something to think about when you're coming up with ideas for paintings. Even a quick sketch and a few scribbled notes are better than just a photo for helping to cement the idea in your head until you can put it on paper.

Here's an idea on how to do edges from a very talented oil painter named Kyle in Plein Air:

I've been concerned with my own edges where the tree's meet the sky. What I've been doing is painting the sky over the edges of the trees, then the tree's back into the sky and back and forth like that until you get some different kinds of edges and a kind of 3'd effect. I'll also mix an intermediate value (something between the sky color and tree color, but not necessarily those 2 colors mixed together) and use that in the back and forth painting.

Also, I want to point out this link to Richard McKinley's "Pastel Pointers" which can be found in the Pastel Journal Blog:

Some very interesting ideas that I need to explore!


02-12-2009, 07:06 PM
Donna, thank you for posting every step. I haven't ever tried that sort of planning. It's so tempting! Cool that you followed your sketch rather than the photo, your painting is tons better than the photo. The grass in the foreground really helped.

I like the detail in the trees and the area immediately around them though, that area is beautiful for me. They could be softened but I like it a lot just the way it is.

Donna T
02-13-2009, 12:48 PM
Thank you, Robert! I can't imagine just jumping in without planning - that would be scary for me! Best of luck with your gray painting, too.


02-13-2009, 05:56 PM
Donna, it is so beautiful, and thank you for showing your process. I'd definitely go with McKinley's advice on how to bridge as that also softens and blurs. But with a light like this one, the trees would be rather silhouetted anyway, but softly, as light 'sneaks' around them.


Donna T
02-13-2009, 08:06 PM
Wasn't that McKinley article an eye-opener, Charlie? I hope to learn more about how to find just the right color to use as a bridge. Thanks for looking!


02-13-2009, 08:48 PM
DOnna.. wow, such great info & a beautiful painting! I have been thinking how beautiful the sky is here & when I photograph it.. well, it always dissapoints me.. I never thought to take notes of what I was seeing, so thanks bunches for that idea & this WIP!

Donna T
02-13-2009, 09:08 PM
Thanks, T. I guess you could take notes if you had a live model and didn't think you could paint as fast as you could write. If you were painting me tonight you would write that you see dark blue-violet tones under my eyes. :lol:


02-16-2009, 01:53 PM
Hi Donna. It took me awhile to read everything said on your painting. I love the way you composed this; it is much better than the photo. You did a great job. I took the photo and desiderated it and noticed a couple of little things. These are just ideas for future paintings and not for this one which really is lovely.

I am going out on a limb here and I hope this is helpful for future paintings with snow. For the future, the sky in your painting seems a tad dark. I love the colors but maybe slightly lighter in value might help. And then maybe bring in some of the colors from the sky down into the foreground snow. Snow crystals tend to reflect color just like water and so even though it is hard to see, those colors would be reflected from the sky. Here is a painting by Clyde Aspevig that shows the sky color reflected in the snow. Notice all the color in the snow.

I hope this is helpful.


Donna T
02-16-2009, 03:11 PM
Thank you so much, Donna! Wow, is that a gorgeous snow painting! That is exactly the look and feel I wish to convey to the viewer. I have a question: should we put those colors on the snow even if we don't observe them just to get the effect we want? The snow in my view just seemed cold and blue because the sky was almost dark but I think you are right - there must have been some of the sky color reflected somewhere. Maybe the sky color should only be placed near the focal point, just to tie the two together a little? Thanks again for the example painting - it looks like a scene that could so easily be overlooked but is actually very beautiful.


02-16-2009, 03:44 PM
Yes Donna, I think that you can go ahead and put the color in the snow even if you don't think you see it. Our mind tells us the snow is white and so we see white, but in Clyde's painting he has used many, many colors and I am sure that if you were standing in that very spot you probably would not see that much color. But what a wonderful painting and by including all of the color in the snow it gives the painting the look and feel that you wish to convey. I am learning it is more about the look and feel and less about painting exactly what I think I see. Because when you look at snow your eye adjust and your mind kicks in and says white. Also, I am learning to ask myself, what color is the light? If the light is pink the snow will have more pink. If the light is yellow the snow will have yellow and so on.........

I was at a workshop in Bend Oregon and we were watching our instructor paint a big mountain with some snow. A big, very dark cloud came over and our instructor pointed out that the lightest thing in the painting was the sky and the big dark cloud, even though it looked dark, it was still lighter than anything in the landscape (except for the snow). We all stood around arguing about that, but since then I have come the conclusion that he was right. The sky is the very lightest thing (except for snow). As the sky becomes dark the landscapes gets even darker.

I just noticed my big typo. That should have been desaturated instead of whatever It was I typed.

Donna T
02-16-2009, 04:03 PM
Such helpful info, thanks Donna. I know what you mean - we have to create the painting and do whatever it takes to make it work, and what a risk that can be! I'm glad you meant desaturate - I was afraid I was missing out on an important art term. :)