Step by Step: Sketch to Finished Painting + Plein Air Download for a Dime

12 May 2011

When Richard McKinley creates a landscape painting, he likens it to a dance, a push-pull between the artist’s feelings for the place and the tendencies of the medium. For his landscape art, he focuses on a subtle progression of color layers and building a focal point. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he creates his painting, Acequia, from beginning to end, and what occupies his mind during each stage.

Study: On site, McKinley looks for a focal point in the
studies he creates for all of his landscape paintings,
and he often finds them where there is the greatest
amount of contrast. This can be a matter of color,
value, and edges.
Richard McKinley's study for his landscape painting, Acequia
Drawing: At this stage, McKinley takes visual
measurements of the subject, but he also gets to
know the subject again by examining and responding
to his study. He makes a horizontal line for the horizon,
a vertical one to indicate the central axis of the work,
and several diagonal lines to show the progression of
the space from fore- to background. He also indicates
dark, medium, and light values, but is careful not to put
too many marks on the surface.

Richard McKinley's preparatory drawing for his landscape painting, Acequia

Underpainting: McKinley builds up an underpainting
with thin layers of the dominant or complementary colors
in the composition, always keeping value in mind. He
then puts in the darkest darks and lightest lights—“book
ends” for the painting that allow him to know the
boundaries of color extremes.
Richard McKinley's watercolor underpainting for his landscape painting, Acequia
Midway through: Now it’s all about the gradual application
of color. McKinley views a work in progress like a mosaic.
Colors from the underpainting peek through across the
painting, and he continues to build up color in thin layers.

Richard McKinley's landscape painting, Acequia, mid-way through the painting process.

Finished work: Likening himself to Oliver Twist, McKinley
is always inclined to add more and more to a painting. To
stop, he reminds himself of the original impetus for the
painting. He makes sure he finds the point where the piece
stands up to that original idea, and he makes sure the work
is made well enough with sound techniques to last.

Richard McKinley's landscape painting, Acequia

Painting landscapes is a matter of distilling a wide array of visual information into a cohesive whole. Going through McKinley’s process allowed me to understand the motivation behind each painting stage. Our Artist Daily DVDs take step-by-step even further and bring you the painting action in real time! And right now our DVD download for landscape painter Frank Serrano's plein air DVD is available for only 10 cents* (crazy, right?!). Plus all of our Artist Daily instructional DVDs are available this way, so you can get them sent right to your computer to start watching immediately. Enjoy!

*The offer is good through May 20, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. MT.

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mricrdon wrote
on 13 May 2011 10:02 AM

Courtney, thank you for including my work in your post. the field painting, used as reference, was done in oil and the proceeding demonstration was a pastel painting utilizing a watercolor underpainting. Thanks, Richard McKinley

on 13 May 2011 1:42 PM

It was my pleasure, Richard. Thanks for the support--and the great artwork!