9 mini landscape paintings project

Sanctuary at the Edge of Woods - 9 mini landscape paintings project number 1
“Sanctuary at the Edge of Woods”, 3×4 mini painting, oil on oil paper

I’m excited to be working on a new painting project. This one is based on doing 9 mini landscape paintings, and the goal of it is to knock off the rust that’s built up over several months of no painting. It’s pretty amazing how many tasks I found to do to avoid actually putting paint on the brush, lol.

But one of the things I wanted to revisit and refamiliarize myself with is my painting process — from choosing a subject to completing a painting — before jumping in. (Or at least completing up to the point of varnishing, since I haven’t actually varnished a painting yet.) I had a pretty good system down when I did my 30 days of value thumbnails project, and it just needed a few updates. I’ll remain open to adjusting it, but here’s what I settled on to get started:

  1. Identify the concept. Why am I painting this? What is it about?
  2. Composition thumbnails. Explore personality and rhythm of the subject.
  3. Value thumbnail. 3-4 values, 4-6 main shapes.
  4. Notan. Reduce value thumbnail to 2 values to check shapes and patterns.
  5. Color strategy. How can I tell the story I want to tell through hue, intensity, temperature? Make palette selection and test color mixes.
  6. Canvas setup. Choose one of the many options to set the stage, guided by concept, mood, and light.
planning stage for Sanctuary at the Edge of Woods mini landscape painting
Planning stage: value thumbnail, Notan, and color palette plan based on reference photo in upper left

For this mini, titled “Sanctuary at the Edge of Woods”, my concept was the quiet mystery of the soft grasses going behind the evergreen tree. I wanted to play with the warms and cools in those low-intensity winter grasses. I used my planning worksheet to sketch a variety of formats including horizontal, vertical, wide format, and square. To explore more variety instead of automatically choosing the first one I sketched, I used prompts like high horizon/low horizon and mostly light/mostly dark.

The 4-value thumbnail is one of my favorite parts because it’s such a good test of the strength of the composition. Deciding at this stage what the values of each area will be is a thousand times better than doing it as I go on the canvas (at least for me).

When I did the Notan to check whether I liked the shapes that made up the overall dark and light areas, I was happy with what I saw so I kept moving forward with my worksheet. At this point, I stopped to ask myself a few key questions that I would rather address in the planning than once the canvas is covered in paint:

  • Does the thumbnail I chose fit the concept?
  • Does my painting have a focal area?
  • Do I have a strong underlying design with good shapes?
  • Does my design provide a way to lead the viewer through the painting to the focal area?

Next I determined my color strategy. I originally took this reference photo in the late afternoon on an overcast day in March. So part of my strategy was to pay attention to that diffused light effect with moderate contrast, and a dulled orange cast of the light. I selected two sets of complements plus a couple of neutrals for my palette:

  • yellow ochre
  • ultramarine violet
  • alizarin permanent
  • sap green
  • burnt umber
  • ivory black
  • titanium white
Black and white value check of my mini painting

I’m using Arches oil paper cut into 3″x4″ pieces for this project instead of canvas. So my canvas setup options are a bit limited because the paper doesn’t tone evenly. Which I rediscovered when I swiped a brush full of burnt umber on the first piece of paper. It’s not impossible, it’s just not very controllable. I might have better luck thinning the paint with a bit of linseed oil instead of OMS.

I think I’ve made a lot of progress on reducing the intensity of my color mixes, which I’m happy about. I really like how the evergreens on the left feel further back than the one on the right. I learned a couple of things on this first mini:

  1. Mix the colors right before painting instead of the day before. My earth colors hardened on the palette and became gummy or dried out all together.
  2. Using a palette knife effectively will take more practice. But hey, I finally used more paint!!
  3. At this small size, keep things simple.
  4. Watch the shapes of things as I paint — the evergreen on the right lost the character of an evergreen.

Next time I’d like to try simplifying the value color lines into 3 or 4 piles of distinct values in an effort to help me keep my values where I want them. But I still like the concept of having the colors laid out as a line of color with complements next to each other because it reminds me to adjust the intensity.