Paint Landscapes From Sketches, Memory, and Photographs

Ever since my trip to Venice, Italy, last year, I have been looking at paintings of the city by 19th-century artists such as Sargent and Whistler, as well as contemporary artists such as Steve Rogers and Leonard Mizerek. I've become more aware of how these artists exaggerated color relationships, simplified complicated spaces, and composed shapes and values. I decided to respond to this new awareness by painting a studio picture using the oil sketch I did on location, photographs taken on-site, and my imagination. I created the sketch near San Stae, one of the many Venetian churches that Sargent painted.

Photograph of the location
I painted.
9" x 12" oil sketch done
on location near
San Stae church in
Venice, Italy.
The preliminary
sketch done with
diluted transparent
oxide red oil paint on
a 20" x 20" canvas.

I wanted to emphasize the abstract relationship of shapes, and my final painting deviates from the plein air sketch in many ways. Most noticeably, I changed the format from the horizontal shape of the sketch to a square for the final painting. I also increased the contrast between the cool and warm colors, heightened the bright colors, muted the dark- and middle-value colors, and used a palette knife to apply thick layers of paint that would emulate the texture of the ancient walls. I found that the palette knife really transformed the painting, and I plan to use it more often in the future. My friend Urania Christy Tarbet is sending me a set of palette knives she is now marketing because I told her how much I liked the effects I was able to achieve.

The finished 20" x 20" painting done from the plein air
sketch, the photograph, and my memory.

For more landscape painting instruction, check out our free ebook “24 Tips to Learn How to Paint a Plein Air Landscape.”

M. Stephen Doherty

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

2 thoughts on “Paint Landscapes From Sketches, Memory, and Photographs

  1. About 2 weeks ago I got a book of Sargent’s Venetian paintings, mostly the watercolors, and noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: His compositions are generally built upon browns contrasted with blues.

  2. Thank you for sharing this article. I think it helps to continually focus on the points you made: work on “exaggerated color relationships, simplified complicated spaces, and composed shapes and values.”