Sunday, March 26, 2017

So What Exactly is a "Study"?

Frosted Shimmer Along the Deschutes, oil, 20 x 24
Completed from the two studies shown below.
Available soon at Mockingbird Gallery, Bend, OR,

Early in my painting journey, I would hear of other artists mentioning their “studies” they painted before completing larger versions. Back then, I don’t think I quite understood what exactly they were “studying” in those smaller versions. I always used to think that once you became an accomplished painter, you would just know how to paint any subject.

But I didn’t realize that the more your painting skills progress, the more you want to push yourself to explore all the possibilities.

When you learn to see your paintings in terms of abstract shapes and color combinations, not merely replications of the subjects, you find that you want to have a rough idea of how those shapes and color combinations will look once assembled into a selected composition before diving into a large format. 

My studies are basically various explorations of a painting idea. From study to study, I sometimes alter the composition if I find that it could be strengthened. Or I’ll alter the color palette. Or maybe push the overall color temperature warmer or cooler. Or maybe handle the hard and soft edges a little differently. It’s difficult to make those decisions right at the start of any painting. It’s best to see a preliminary draft (or two, or three, ...) to see if those initial decisions were the best ones, and if it appears that any part could be strengthened.

When I like what I see in a study, I may explore it some more in another study and/or refine it in a larger version. To keep things interesting, I often like to switch back and forth between oil and pastel if I’m painting several studies of one painting idea.

I recently explored a snow scene shown in the three paintings included here in this post. The location is Sawyer Park and the Deschutes River that runs through this park in Bend, Oregon. When this spot was coated with a thick, fresh coat of snow, the area took on a shimmering, magical appearance in the late afternoon sun. That’s the idea I wanted to capture.

In my first (smallest) study, I painted just a loose composition juxtaposing warm browns and earthy greens against the cool blues and blue-violets of the shadows in the snow. In this study I rendered only very rough indications of how I might handle the edges. My main objective was to establish a color palette that would best feature the shimmering light contrasted against the shadow areas.

Winter Frosting, oil, 8" x 10"
My initial study for this subject.

For my next study (just a bit larger), I switched over to my pastels to see how the subject matter could be interpreted in this medium.  With this one, I wanted to see how I might like the color palette with a bit more emphasis on the blue-violets. I also further explored the edges and how I wanted to handle the more delicate details.

Winter Frosting Along the Deschutes, pastel, 11" x 14"

In the final, largest version (shown at the top of this post), I switched back to oil. My goal was to keep the same palette of cool blues and blue-violets as the pastel, but also bring back a little more of the warm browns and earthy greens from the original oil. I also followed much of the handling of the edges and delicate details from the pastel version. I had decreased the values of the shadows in the lower right in the pastel, but decided to bring them back closer to the oil version, feeling that it needed the contrast to strengthen the delicate highlights on the foreground bushes.

From one study to the next, there are always those special, favorite areas that I can never seem to duplicate. However, the goal is to create successful original artwork, not to duplicate anything. In both smaller studies, there are some features of the delicate bushes, and shadows in the snow, that I do indeed like better in the studies. But I’m happiest with the overall solution I arrived at in the final, larger piece, “Frosted Shimmer Along the Deschutes” (oil, 20" x 24"), which will be available at Mockingbird Gallery in Bend, OR in a few weeks, as soon as get a coat of varnish and frame on it!

One other thing to note about studies is that not every study makes it beyond that stage. I paint lots of small studies. (In the studio and on location.) I find that it keeps my skills fresh if I’m continually exploring new painting ideas. But it’s only logical that some of those ideas may not work, and many simply don’t interest me enough to take them any further. Sometimes a study will sit on a shelf in my studio for many months until I gradually see potential for exploring it further in a larger format. And it’s quite a thrill to me when an idea makes it from a baby study to a grown-up finished painting!


Redondo Beach, CA - 3-day, 2-day & 1 day PASTEL workshops 
3- day workshop: April 17, 18 & 19, 2017 (Mon/Tues/Wed) - ONE SPOT AVAILABLE!
2- day workshop: April 20 & 21, 2017 (Thurs/Fri) - FULL
1-day workshop: April 22 (Sat) - FULL
Pastel Society of Southern California
Contact: Arturo Fribourg,
$325 (3-day), $220 (2-day), $110 (1-day)

Oregon City, OR - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop
May 19, 20& 21, 2017 (Fri/Sat/Sun)
"Meet & Greet" Thursday evening (5/18)
Carrie Moore Studios, Oregon City, OR
Contact: Carrie Moore,, 503-866-5507

Cumberland, MD - 1-day Plein Air workshop (all media/demo will be in oil)
June 25, 2017 (Sun)
Part of the Mountain Maryland Plein Air event happening June 19-24.
Contact: Chris Sloan,, 301-777-2787

Bainbridge Island, WA - 3-day PASTEL/OIL workshop (studio & plein air)
July 19, 20 & 21, 2017 (Wed/Thurs/Fri)
Winslow Art Center
278 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Contact: Martha Jordan,, 206-715-6663

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