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Steps to a Satisfying Painting

Sometimes a student in my watercolor class will say "I just want to paint," meaning they want to jump right into painting and not draw any. I understand when they have a busy life. But I just want to show you how doing drawings and studies helps me and make the process of painting much more satisfying in the end.  

Preliminary studies, are where most of the creative work is done for me. These steps are invaluable because it's where I'm free to be more creative. When working a final painting the emotional attachment is stronger so it is difficult to have the freedom to experiment that you have in little studies where the consequences are small. These steps give ideas and change the direction of my paintings that wouldn't happen without them. Working out an idea in steps like this takes the heavy lifting out of the work.

Below is my reference photo for the painting "Beholding" shown above. 

I knew there was something I really liked in the expression of his face so I cropped and rotated the photo. 

Below is a 2 inch thumbnail drawing where I'm seeking what it is that is attracting me to the subject, asking, "what's catching my eye." This is where I start to see what shapes and lines I like and what areas are most important. By this time I hope to be able to write down what the painting is about.

So I kind of liked the thumbnail sketch above and I tried a watercolor study of it (below) but knew there's something missing. By this time I knew I wanted to make it about a special moment of prayer and connection with God, he is in awe, paused, and reflecting on the beauty of God. 

So I liked it enough to do a more finished drawing. (below) 

Then came a few watercolor studies. The color had to be in the warm family to convey the love and affection and joy. So doing a few 10 minute color studies helped, making each one with a different combination of colors. These studies helped to show what using a dominant color of yellow orange with would look like with different variations. This is mostly an analogous color scheme which conveys a peacefulness.   

 And then on to the final watercolor painting! This process can take me several days before even getting to the final piece but it is an enjoyable process of discovery which gives a much more satisfying end result!


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