Garden Urn, 6 x 8, oil on panel, L. Daniel © 2012, NFS
A strong "start" is required for a strong "finish" when it comes to accomplishing most things in life, and making a painting is no different. In my plein air class this fall, my students have been experimenting with 3 different block-in methods for starting a landscape. The first decisions and initial marks become foundational in a painting, so having a plan for getting started is so important. Here's a little review...
First, a loose sketch gets the subject outlined before starting any block-in. I do this in paint; and I always correct my composition and drawing before proceeding.
Below are three different block-in methods we've been using:
1 - Line and Mass Block-in
Sketch subject and "mass in" major values in the foreground, middle ground and back ground. Use thin and dry pigment, and ignore details. Once values are established, add color (but retain value decisions), painting from dark to light. Avoid muddiness by painting back into the dark underdrawing with thicker, fatter pigment and a light touch. Reload brush frequently. Save details and highlights for the very end.
2 - Reductive Mass Block-in
Cover the whole canvas with dark neutral pigment. Then use paper towels, q-tips and scrapers to remove paint and block-in the subject. Apply more pressure in lighter areas and add more paint as necessary for darker areas. Again, add color (but retain value decisions), painting from dark to light. Save details and highlights for the end.
3 - Simple Color Shapes Block-in
Use color (in the correct value ranges) to indicate the light and shadow families. Divide the subject into simple shapes of color and value. Once large shapes are in place and are "reading" as light and shadow, begin to break up the large masses with subtle value shifts (see finished piece above). Be careful not to mix the values between the light and shadow families. Save details and highlights until the end.
I use each of these methods as the situation demands, but have found that my personal style always emerges in the final piece. One approach might offer a better way to get there, but the painting has a familiar ending point regardless of the block-in choice. It's an interesting thing, I think.