From reference photo to an oil painting

Mill Creek Reflections 20x24 oil on Belgian Linen 2018

Teri’s View  20×24 oil on linen 2018

by cheri sabraw

Plein air painters teach their students to use a limited palette when heading out to the forest, the stream, or the coast for a day of painting. With only six colors or so, you can mix up a an entire spectrum of color while still staying within the same color families so that the painting looks unified.

The limited palette, which often includes a warm and cool version of each of the three primary colors, enables the plein air painter to unify the scene in terms of color but also in terms of value.

I am not a plein air painter and have no burning desire to be one although I surely admire their pluck. Dealing with insects, the elements, and lookie-loos, while schlepping equipment through the dale, always looking over one’s shoulder for a wild animal that might eat the plein air painter alive–all of these thoughts make my comfy studio with hot coffee or chilled wine (depending on the time of day) perfect for painting.

In the studio, I still mix all of my colors from primary colors, along with burnt sienna and umber, ivory black, and Gamblin greys–cool and warm. Occasionally, I will use Dioxide Purple as well.

This painting “Teri’s View” is 20×24 oil on Belgian linen. Teri is my sister-in-law and grew up on the long and winding road where my husband and I and dog now reside and from where so much of my photography springs.

Teri has moved away but wanted a memory of the hills, the oaks, the cattle, the clouds and the sky that she treasures from her youth.

And so I began to design my photo and then my painting.

I tried to guide the eye to the focal point by directing two small branches over the bull and then thrusting the heavy grasses on the side of the road and in the shade of the trees upward.

The painting, as they always do, took its inspiration from this photo below but very quickly, like our sweetest dreams, took on a life of its own. In the painting, the grasses became more important, the foliage became thicker, the tree on the left became impressionistic, and the cow became a bull, but the color palette remained true to the photo; namely, the greens are cool and the sky and clouds are warm.


And there you have it.


7 thoughts on “From reference photo to an oil painting

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