Michael Chesley Johnson, Fine Art, Landscapes, Seascapes, Maritimes, Paintings, Oil, Pastel

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Demo: Painting with a "Local Color" Underpainting

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Created from reference photos and a plein air piece, "Quiet Morning: Ramah Lake".

Reference Photo.
Some of the things that appealed to me about this scene were the bright, sunlit colors of the distant
cliffs and nearby rafts of pond weeds and the immense stillness of the morning.
The photograph doesn't have the vivid reds and greens that I saw as I stood on this
spot, so I'll have to try to visualize this as I work.

Reference Plein Air Painting.
Fortunately, to help me with the color, I have this 9"x12" painting I did just after
taking the above photo. The colors are close to what I remember, but I will
want to increase the contrast between the lights and the darks on the cliffs. Another challenge
will be to take this small painting and turn it into a much larger one. The finished piece will be 19"x25".
You might say, "Just use bigger pieces of pastel!" But I want to take the opportunity
in the studio to work on bettering my composition.

Thumbnail pencil sketch to work out the composition.
I create this small (3"x4" or so) sketch with a #2 pencil. My goal is to work out the
values -- my lightest area, my darkest area, the shades in between -- and to refine
the composition. Using the "rule of thirds," I place my center of interest in the
upper right quadrant. This will be where my strongest contrast and color will be. You'll note some
directional arrows showing how I want the viewer's eye to move.

Color thumbnail sketch.
My last step before going "large" is to create a color thumbnail. Ordinarily, I may make several
of these to determine my palette. I'll try cool underpaintings, warm underpaintings, complementary
underpaintings -- just about anything -- to see what is most harmonious. I want a quiet, very harmonious
finished piece, so I try three values of a cool, purple-violet for the underpainting and layer cool "local" colors
on top of this, saving my warm touches for the red cliffs. I like this first version, so I'll stick with it.

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