My Painting Process

Morning Light

I would like to share with you the method I use for creating one of my abstract townscapes (‘Morning Light’).  The process is relatively straightforward but the effect can be effective. Key to the success of this kind of painting is good planning and a methodical approach and the more organised you are the better the results will be. I am going to cover some common questions about this style of work as we go.

“So what is it, abstract or figurative?”

I use the term ‘abstract’ to describe these paintings but that’s not strictly true; the subject matter is by in large figurative, buildings for example although slightly simplified are still recognisable and it is only the colour that has been abstracted. I will not delve into too much detail about colour as it is largely a subjective choice for the individual however I believe a harmony of colours is more pleasing to the eye than a random choice of colours by the artist and this all comes back to what I said earlier about good planning.  So…

1. Firstly we begin with a reference photo and an outline drawing. I took this one with my digital SLR camera one sunny Autumn morning hence the title of the work ‘Morning Light’.


Reference photo

Everything is scaled up and transferred to an 18″ x 24″ canvas board. There is a good reason for using a board and not a stretched canvas which will be explained in the next step.


Masking everything but the sky

2. So here is the outline drawing , notice some of the canvas is covered in masking tape. Basically areas I don’t want covered in sky colour need to be masked out. Trickier areas to mask like the tree on the left are firstly covered in tape and then later cut around with a scalpel (this is why I use a board as the scalpel would pop straight through a stretched canvas).  I will then proceed to ‘roller’ the sky, mini gloss rollers are good for this as they give a nice smooth gradation and finish but be warned you will use a lot more paint with a roller.


The completed sky

Actually I covered all or most of the canvas with masking tape and as you can see the drawing is still clearly visible through it. Carefully tracing my pencil lines with the scalpel I am then able to peel of a section of masking tape at a time to reveal the canvas beneath. This allows me to methodically paint the entire canvas piecemeal fashion which I will admit can be laborious but will give the clean sharp edges I want.


A gradual process

Painting at this slow speed does give you ample opportunity to consider your colours. I like to pick just a few closely related colours as my palette and stick to them aiming for a harmonious colour scheme because as I mentioned earlier this is far more pleasing to look at than a haphazard selection of colours. This approach requires discipline – sometimes you’re itching to grab your favourite paint colour but this may or may not work and I prefer certainties so I try to be patient and stick to the plan. It’s worth pointing out if you have lets say a predominately yellow picture and you feel it needs a ‘bluer’ colour you might find that a pale orange, a pale greenish-yellow or pink will do the job nicely and this is because colour is relative (the same colour can look completely different according to its surrounding colour(s)). My point is in this scenario you don’t necessarily have to use a tube of blue paint to get the desired effect because a pink (or similar) might do just as well. The advantage of thinking about colour in this way is you will find that you a) need fewer colours and b) end up with a more harmonious picture because you’ve used colours that are closer related.


Nearing completion

This painting has a very narrow range of colours and that is how I wanted it because the subject needed to look as if it were drenched in sunlight and the one way I knew of to do that was to have all the local colours of the buildings etc. dominated by the colour of the light (in this case the sun) this in itself gave a nice harmonising effect. As for the rest of the painting ie. all of the shadow colours well this is where the majority of abstraction occurs: I don’t know if you’ve ever walked along a path heading toward the sun and noticed that the cracks in the pavement can sometimes take on a red appearance? Well this is the mind filling in its own colour for one that is too ambiguous to perceive, the same thing happens when you try to find your way around a darkened room and see colours as opposed to pure pitch black. So this is the principal I have applied in the painting only exaggerated.

'Morning Light'

The finished painting

If you would like a better explanation of colour relativity then you can follow this link for a short video on the subject.

If you have any questions on this subject then please use the comments box at the foot of this page thank you.