Is making a painting on your bucket list?

Title: Lerderderg River Gorge
Size: 178 W x 127 H (mm)
Material: Oil on canvas board

Status: For sale

Purchasein ETSY store

Production animation

Watch the following time lapse video of this painting being made.


Many people would love to paint. Perhaps you did art as a kid but your life got busy and you never found the time again? Or you believe you are not very creative but would still like to give it a go at least once in your life? If now is the time to go for it, then here is how to make a painting in two hours for first timers.

How to make a painting in two hours for first timers

This is your first time heading out to paint. Find a beautiful location near water. Bring a picnic and settle down for a couple of hours. You are about to have one of the times of your life.

Sit quietly and soak in the view. Smell the air. Listen to the sounds. Take a photo for later.

Warming up exercises

In a sketchbook draw two frames that match your canvas. In the first frame roughly sketch the main lines you see in the scene in front of you. When you have the basics down, think about the composition. How do the various shapes in your sketch look? Do they resemble what you see in the real world? Do you like the arrangement?

Make minor adjustments then transfer those lines to the second frame.

Next, draw a rectangle beneath your two frames and divide it into eight parts. Gradually shade from right to left till you have eight distinct levels of grey.

Figure 1: Warming up exercises

Study the values in your scene. Where are the darkest darks? Where is the lightest light? How does each shape in your scene compare in value to each other shape? Is it a level 7, 6, 5 or 4 when you compare it to your scale? Shade in the areas within your second frame accordingly.

These warming up sketches should take no more than 15 minutes. They will help to bring your hand-eye coordination to a reasonable level and to sharpen your visual perceptual skill. Known by artist as “getting your eye in”.

If you’re happy, transfer the same lines to your canvas. It’s time to start painting.

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The painting part

Mix up the main colours you see (not every little variation; just tree green, sky blue, soil brown, and so on). See if you can make the colours about the same value as the shades in your second frame. So, for example, if you are mixing sky blue, make it a mid tone blue rather than light blue if you shaded the sky area as a level 5 grey.

Fill in your main areas with blocks of colour till there is no base canvas visible. Artists call this “blocking in” or underpainting. Be really careful not to blend or merge the edges. Just butt them up together with no canvas showing through.

Take a break you are almost finished. Walk away from your canvas. Have a drink, rest your eyes and forget about what you are doing for a little while. Just enjoy being out in nature, out in the world.

Now take a look at what you have painted from a distance. Impressive isn’t it! It actually looks a lot like the scene already. A master artist would stop right there. Done!

Figure 2: Blocked in study compared to original

But if you really want to, spend no more than 10 minutes refining (put a timer on). Squint your eyes and search for the single most important aspect that needs attention. And do the minimal amount to fix it. Step back and take another look from a distance. Better? Do this one or two more times, then stop.

You are done! All that remains is signing it and being proud of your first piece. Congratulations.

Figure 3: The end result

Note: First timers often wreck a perfectly good painting by going too far at this final stage. Trying to fix too many things. You are tired, you will have already spent about an hour working. All the visual conditions are about to change beyond recall (the sun, the clouds and the light). Just tackle a very few details. What you can achieve in 10 minutes. Working from the most important aspect to be fixed down the list (write the aspects down before you start refining if you like) and letting the others slide.

If you keep tinkering, you will get confused and lose control. Trust me. So take my advice and stop before you really feel like it. Take your beautiful piece home, put it on your mantelpiece and look at it for a while. Over time you will begin to like it more and see more clearly what you have achieved.

What next?

If you really want to put more paint on a canvas — why not go out again and paint another scene, using exactly the same process? With practice you will build up a body of work and be ready to have your first exhibition.
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