Riverside, pastel on paper, 18x24", Jeffrey Smith

Landscape painting with pastels | Riverside Pastel

I flip through a lot of art magazines.

I look at magazines geared towards collectors and magazines geared towards other artists.  I always find it fascinating to read about how a painter begins their work.

There are the lucky few.  The idea just seems to fall out of them.  Sure–maybe they do some preparatory work that didn’t make it in to the magazine article, but all and all, the painting just  seems to have arrived–already fully formed…ready to hit the canvas.

Then there are those of us who have to work for it.  Drawings are done.  Set-ups adjusted.  Restarts and revisions.  It is a process of starting from a very general idea, and then moving it toward something that feels more and more like that  initial idea.

What? Let me explain…

My original idea for this river painting came from looking at the great big rock on the river’s edge.  I loved how the light bark of the tree behind it and the reflection in the water created a strong vertical shape.  That shape became my jumping-off point.  After that, I just had to work the rest of the landscape around it.  With a strong vertical line like that, I knew that the composition could handle the twists and turns of a river.

Riverside, Charcoal Sketch
Riverside, Charcoal Sketch

Once I had that jumping-off point, I did this drawing on location, next to the onion river in the Superior National Forest.  It’s charcoal highlighted with pastel on a grey paper.

I packed up my gear and I left the forest with this drawing, some written notes about how things looked and what I felt, and a just-okay reference photo.  After that, it was time to head into the studio and get to work.

I’d love to report that I’ve made the leap to becoming one of the fully-formed-idea painters that I read about in the magazines, but the truth is, I haven’t.  I still make a lot of adjustments. A lot of changes.  But in the end, I love the process.  That process is what keeps me coming back.

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