Step by Step: Sketch to Finished Painting

5 Jun 2014

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. All the resources you'll find below take step-by-step even further--bringing you the painting action in real time via art workshop videos; top instruction books and DVDs, and so much more! Enjoy!


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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!

miriza wrote
on 6 Jun 2014 4:48 PM

I wish the photos were a little bigger :(

Paintboxsuzi wrote
on 8 Jun 2014 12:06 AM

Love the combination of different materials to achieve different but similar effects to honor the medium.  For a simple demo it has a lot of information.  I too wish the pics were a bit bigger.  Still, I was able to see the transition from watercolor to pastelclearly enough to appreciate the freshness of approach in both mediums.  Quite masterful.  Thanks; it is where I am in my journey with pastels to use the underpainting, but I am still struggling with the basics of choosing different papers for different effects.  Timely for me.

Sue Williams

edtotten wrote
on 9 Jun 2014 6:07 PM

I was wondering what the medium was.  Pastel over water color - interesting combination.  

Harry06 wrote
on 9 Jun 2014 9:52 PM

Using a watercolour under painting seems to create a lovely soft ethereal finish. It's a great way to use both mediums, they really complement one another. Thank you for the article.