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Kokosing River Bend ~ a WIP

January 1, 2009







After doing the larger painting Summer On The Kokosing, I wanted to do a small painting focusing on my favorite part of the larger one.  For a change, I managed to take a reasonable set of progress photos, and thought I would share them here.  The progress photos were shot as the painting sat on the easel, so the lighting is a little off.  The battery on my camera died part way through, and I didn’t stop the painting while it charged, so there is a bit of a leap toward the end.  But, hopefully, this will show how I typically progress through a gouache landscape in the studio.

I’m still learning how to post multiple images, so if this ends up with an odd layout, I sincerely apologize.  Hopefully, the whole thing will at least be understandable as you scroll down.



This painting is 8×10, on gessoed masonite.  It was done almost entirely with very cheap, flat synthetic bristle brushes, primarily a 1″ brush, and a few smaller ones toward the end.















I begin almost every painting the same way, with a very loose sketch, simply establishing the composition and the main shapes.  Yellow ochre is my preferred color for this, and I work fairly wet, sometimes wiping out areas, sometimes simply going in with darker strokes as I make adjustments.


Using a mixture of ultramarine and burnt umber, I establish my darker masses and shadows.  Because I tend toward warm in my paintings, I like the blue/purple as a beginning for the cooler shadows.  They don’t always end up cool, but at least my heart’s in the right place at the beginning.  Because gouache remains active, easily wiped out with a wet brush or paper towel, the ochre lines don’t concern me.  They will eventually disappear in most places as I work over them, or remain in a softened form, giving the appearance of a warm undertone in the finished painting.


Next, I establish the warm areas, using pure yellow ochre, still working very wet.  I’m a big fan of California urban landscape painter William (Bill) Wray, and Bill continually stresses “warm against cool, light against dark”, and I try to keep that philosophy in my head as I develop a painting.  Here, I’m simply establishing where the light hits.

Due to the “lifting” characteristic of gouache, a very light touch with a wet brush is called for here, because in some areas, I’m simply layering light washes over darker undertones.

Even though it remains active, gouache dries on the surface very quickly.  Within only a couple of minutes, I’ve taken a damp paper towel and wiped some areas, not being overly cautious, just to pick the paint out of some places, and soften edges.  The damp paper towel will cause some of the colors to blend a bit, depending on how heavy a touch is used.  Too heavy, and everything is wiped out; too light, and not much happens.  I’ll also use a dampened cotton swab (Q-tip) to pick out some lighter spots.


Using ultramarine, lemon yellow, yellow ochre and red, I start experimenting with greens.  (Every painting I do seems to be an experiment where greens are concerned.)  I probably use way too much yellow ochre, but it does seem to unify the painting.  I suspect it may also contribute to the “old masters” look that people occasionally comment on.  Most of it will disappear as the greens are developed further, but some will remain and glow through the other colors.

I’ve carried some of the greens down into the water, and again use a damp paper towel to very lightly blend some of the color and soften the brush strokes.  Water is still something I’m trying to master, and it’s very much a hit or miss proposition.


I’ve begun to build the sky very lightly at this point, with combinations of ultramarine, yellow ochre, a touch of red, and titanium white, all applied pretty thinly.  I’m letting the sky colors carry into the tree edges, taking advantage of the lifting characteristic of the gouache to soften some of the edges.

I’ve punched in a few sky holes at this point, trying to get some definition to the tree masses.  I’ve continued to slowly work on the greens, and in some places the paint is being applied with a bit thicker consistency.  I’ve carried the sky color down into the water a bit more opaquely as well.

Although the horizon line is still undefined, I’ve let the colors blend there as they may, through a variety of wet brush strokes and use of the damp paper towel. 


From this point on, it’s a continuous cycle of opaque and transparent strokes, of pushing and pulling the lights and darks, the warms and cools, putting in the distant horizon tree line, and getting some definition into the water by pulling the sky colors and reflected ground and tree foliage.

The painting has reached that “now don’t screw it up” stage.  I’m happy with how it’s going, and know the look I want to end up with.

Touches of yellow ochre/titanium white in the clouds give a bit more warmth to the sky.  Then it’s a matter of simply working the greens until I’m satisfied, touching up the highlights and tweaking the skyholes.

A few added strokes in the grass area punch those areas a bit.  Someone has pointed out that my skyholes are a bit rough, and I suspect the far waterline is a bit too harsh, but it does draw the eye to that area.  Although that’s fine with me, I may touch a few of those things up before varnishing.

The progress images are digital photos, and the finished image at the beginning of this post is a scan, so colors and sharpness are a bit different.  I’ve also sharpened the progress images slightly, so the brushwork is more visible. 

kokosing-river-bend-framedI’ve included a blowup below, taken from the scanned image.  I believe it goes a long way toward illustrating the layers of paint, the brushwork, and the edges that are developed through lifting and wiping.  In the enlargment, the strokes and edges created by the bristle brushes appear sharp and harsh, but from three feet away, this painting has a very soft look.  Overall, I’m happy with it.  It already looks nice in a frame, and once it’s varnished, it should glow on the wall.




















Best Wishes to everyone for a good new year filled with lots of great paintings.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol permalink
    January 1, 2009 4:18 pm

    Hard to imagine you go from those yellow ochre lines to that gorgeous painting. I like this one a lot but I sure like the blowup of the brush strokes, I need to play with my paints today, I’m feeling inspired by your rough strokes!

    • January 1, 2009 4:40 pm

      Hi, Carol! Glad you like it. Get those paints out and have some fun. I couldn’t let the first day of my new year go by without touching a brush, so I’ve spent a couple of hours this morning painting a little study before the other kids get here. I’m posting it on wetcanvas in the Landscape Forum. Happy New Year and Love to All!

  2. January 2, 2009 2:36 pm

    Love the way you have documented the way you went about creating the painting. As a fellow artist I always enjoy seeing how other artists go about bringing their visions to life. Beautiful painting with a lot of “feeling” and “warmth” in it. Well done.

    • February 16, 2009 7:53 pm

      Anna, thank you for stopping in, and for the very nice comments. I’m not sure how these “progress” posts will work, because I still don’t have a tried and true method. But the basic steps are there to see. Thanks again.

  3. February 16, 2009 5:25 pm

    I am really impressed by the beauty of your landscape style. Almost abstract in their simplicity with a wonderful palette. I don’t paint yet, still in the b+w phase of my art education, but am keeping an eye on your blog for compositional inspiration. The sequential images are appreciated, too (more please). Very nice content. Regards.

    • February 16, 2009 7:55 pm

      Hi Candace! What nice comments. I really appreciate it. I checked in on your blog, and you’re doing some wonderful black and white work!

  4. March 26, 2016 2:33 pm

    Love this blow-up above, it gives me a strong Impression: four main colors and feelings of a big summer time outside … first saw it via a bing search about “gouache paintings” and meant it where a painting on its own. So I followed it, browsing through your tremendeous blog. Best regards!

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