The Covered Bridge Painting Process

Some stages of the covered bridge painting:

Shown above is the general painting process I used.  It started with a rough sketch on a  11×14 light gray Fredrix Pre-toned Canvas Pad I bought from an art store in Spokane.  Excellent quality almost like hardboard, on sale with a pack of 3 for under $8.00.  I blocked in the composition with mostly medium values, added dark and light values, and began working on the details and refining the painting.

Before doing my painting

I drew a detailed pencil sketch of the covered bridge that I would use as a reference.  I try not to paint something that looks complex before drawing it first.  After painting in acrylics for a while and taking a long break from oil paint, I decided to use my Winton-Newton water soluble oil paints.  The main reason was that it seemed to me that a lot of blending would be needed on the wood structure,  and oil paint lends itself to working slower and painting in layers.  I made sure that I got out the right tubes of paint and medium and had all of the acrylic paints and supplies put away so I wouldn’t mix the tubes up.  I once did that so I know what bad results can happen!

Using a ‘ground’

I usually work on a ground which is a preparation done on a white canvas that has been painted over lightly with a neutral warm or cool color.   I use gesso with a bit of acrylic paint of yellow ochre or pale umber to tint it.  Will Kemp of explains why using a ground is important and how to apply it to a canvas.  Basically, a ground is a paint procedure resulting in a tinted canvas or toned canvas pad as the Fredrix one I used for the first time.  The reason for using a ground on canvas is that all of the white is covered and no white parts or even specks of white canvas will show through your painting.  Over ground, paint colors and values appear with better clarity.  It can make a difference between a good and a better painting and tones down acrylic paint that dries darker than it appears when you brush it on your canvas. Try it if you’ve never done so before and you will see what a difference it can make in ‘seeing’ your colors correctly.   But whether using oil or acrylic, I use a toned surface for painting all the time.

The process is important!

In an earlier post or two, I mentioned that the art process is even more important than the completed painting.  The reason is that the joy and satisfaction of engaging in art making should be the main motivator for all true artists.  That is what we all have in common as artists, not whether we are amateurs or professionals, or keep our paintings, sell them, or give them away, or whatever.   Doing each piece of art work is a new challenge all the time, with the good parts and not so good parts of the experience;  also there are the lessons to learn on how to do better the next time, whether it’s improving perspective skills  in drawing buildings, or spending more time observing nature like how evergreen trees are shaped and how they grow, etc.  Or it may be on how to crop and simplify compositions that have clearer focus of interest or an interesting narrative.

Description of painting

In the covered bridge painting, I tried to create an actual setting and establish a winter day mood;  it was about a personal experience near Mt. Spokane State Park.  I saw this place and stood near the bridge.  I hoped to impart the atmosphere and temperature of the day with tall trees looming over the unique old wood covered bridge; paint some remaining large and small chunks of snow visible;  show a part of the creek below with water  running underneath it, etc.  The biggest challenge was spending too much time with  the trees on the right side.  The big problem is that I invariably worked over the dark shadow areas of the foliage on the right, whereas I had less of a compulsion to do that on the left side of the painting!  It leads to overworking the paints.  I should also have had fewer trees painted in a looser, less distinct and more impressionistic style.  Hope I remember my lessons and not repeat the same mistakes again.  So that’s my critique. . .  and now on to the next painting!