Garden Palm, 6 x 8, oil on panel, L. Daniel ©2013
This is another demo piece that I did for my plein air class a couple of weeks ago... I was able to edit the process down to six logical stopping points for explanatory purposes, but there are hundreds of incremental decisions in each stage that I had to leave out. Time and space just don't permit, but I hope you can get the gist. So, for students, painter friends, and art aficionados of all persuasions...
Block-in the Scene
Using a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, I sketch/paint the scene, adjusting values in the upright planes as they recede into the distance. Keep the paint dry and thin.
Mass-in the Upright Planes
Begin to add color, working dark to light. The darkest darks are in the upright planes, so I usually start there. Remember that as elements recede, values come together with diminished contrast, colors become muted, detail lessens, and edges become softer. Organize values accordingly and keep the masses simple.
Mass-in the Ground Plane
The ground plane reflects the sky, so it will be lighter than the upright planes. It also changes as it recedes, becoming cooler, more muted and less detailed.
Mass-in another, elevated, Ground Plane
The top of the hedge reflects the sky the same way the grass does, even though it is elevated. Consequently, the values of grass and hedge-top must "agree" about what the light is doing.
Mass-in the Sky Plane
The sky is lightest because the sun lives there. Adding the sky plane eliminates the final white space on the canvas and allows a comparison of all the value planes. Notice that the masses are still very simple at this stage. Now is the time to adjust values BEFORE adding details and highlights.
Break up Masses with Subtle Shifts
Once I get all the values "working" together, I move to the final stage of breaking up the masses. I use subtle color and temperature shifts within each value plane to suggest details. At the very end, I beef up lowlights and add the highest highlights. Deferred gratification is hard, but waiting pays off.