The making of a painting

I begin with an image in mind... an idea that eventually needs to be realized. I typically work from my own photographs, and I take hundreds of reference photos that I sort through and make choices about which ones will become a painting. I sometimes work from direct observation, sometimes from memory and always with a bit of invention. My bee paintings tend to be more about memory and invention and narrative. My landscapes tend to be more about capturing a particular feeling or quality of light or a sense of place.

I prep my surface, which is either stretched canvas or a wood panel, with layers of artists' gesso which is sanded between layers to give a smooth surface. I then take quite a bit of time mixing up my paint before even starting on the canvas. I have a big glass palette and lots of tubes of paint, though I go through periods of being in love with particular colors and will be biased towards using them again and again. I use oil paints, mostly because I love everything about them: the smell, how they handle, the slow drying time and the magic of what pigment does optically when suspended in an oil based medium. Oil paints look luscious to me and is exciting to me in a way that other mediums just cannot reach.

Ok, now about the painting...

I typically start with an underpainting. I cover the entire canvas and get the basics of the composition and color relationships down. The painting starts loose and mostly undefined. I tend to work with a medium like Liquin to make the paint flow and dry faster so that it's ready for painting by the next day.

End of day 1.

By the next day, the painting is dry to the touch and I can go over the whole thing again, building the painting. I cover the entire canvas again. The layers here are semi-opaque, so I can see the layer below. Here I think about overall color relationships and composition. I start to lay in the specifics and details.

Detail of sky: Day 2.

By the following day, the painting is dry to the touch and is ready for the next layer. My colors are again mixed up on the palette and I mix in a medium to increase translucency and flow. Again, the entire canvas is covered, but the translucent layers add depth and color to the layers below. I work up close, playing with the subtle transitions between areas, enjoying the details. I try to stand back often to make sure that the painting is on the right track and to make big editing decisions.

Day 3.

This particular painting goes through the same process for several more days. I take a good look at the previous days' work, assess what needs to be done, mix up the paint, mix in the medium and cover the whole painting again. Layers are mostly semi-translucent glazes at this point, with some opaque areas here and there. As I build up the painting, it gains complexity and depth. I resolve areas that need work. I fix trouble spots while keeping my eye on the whole. I make sure that every area holds up to the standards of the whole painting.

Detail: Days 4 & 5.


At some point, the painting feels done to me. Even so, I let it rest for a day or so, letting the pigments settle into the canvas. I take the painting out of my studio and bring it into my house so that I can assess it. I live with it a while, observing it under the different times of day and decide if it needs any further changes.

The finished painting, after some drying time, gets a coat of varnish, the edges of the canvas painted, wired on the back for hanging, labeled and photographed. Only then is it ready to make it's debut.