Tire Swing, Park Series – Step-by-Step

Tire Swing, Park Series – Kit Miracle, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

This is a pretty accurate step-by-step demonstration of my Tire Swing painting in the Park Series.

The first thing I do when I’m planning a painting is a NOTAN sketch.  This is an extreme black and white sketch which eliminates most middle tones.  I actually use some middle tones but essentially, it breaks down the painting composition into extremes.

NOTAN, extreme black and white sketch.

Next I draw a large charcoal drawing of the composition.  This is where I move things around, pay attention to what I’ll emphasize and what I’ll deemphasize.  In this case, I changed my mind from doing a vertical composition to painting a horizontal composition.  The main subject is off-center but balanced.

Charcoal sketch, 24 x 18.
Tire Swing, color swatch. I don’t use any commercial greens but create all my own.

After I decide on the size of the canvas, I put a textured ground coat on it, let it dry, then a coat or two of color.  Sometimes I’ll use a more neutral undercoat, but here I’ve added a very colorful base coat.  Most of this will be covered by the actual painting, but a few bits will peek through adding a bit of verve.

I then make a very basic sketch on the toned canvas with multiple bright colors.  There is no plan to the colors that I use but I add them randomly.  Again, they are mostly covered by later layers of paint, showing through in bits and pieces.

Here I toned the canvas in colorful bands, then drew the subjects in bright colors. Most of these will be covered up later during the painting process.

After that, I begin painting the scene with broad strokes in my contemporary impressionist style.  I usually do the background, starting from top to bottom, and/or the darkest parts first.  Then it’s just a matter of zoning out, adding multiple layers.  The lightest colors are reserved for last.  The best part about using acrylic paint is that it dries quickly.  I can often add another round of paint in about fifteen minutes.  I refer to my color swatch sheet to try to keep everything in the same family.

If you look closely at my color swatches, I don’t use any commercial greens or blacks.  I have several shades of blues and yellows on my palette but I find that I can mix more interesting shades of greens myself.  I limit myself to one or two shades of blue in any one painting.  Speed is essential for this stage of the painting.

Stage 2, painting from top to bottom, back to front. Then the darkest darks, saving the lightest and most detailed parts until last.

By the time I get about 80% of the painting done, then I’m ready to start honing in on the details.  This means switching to smaller brushes, stopping and starting a lot, frequently stepping back to view my results.  One of the biggest dangers in this stage is if some area of the painting is “too precious.”  This means that I love what I’ve done with a particular stroke, color, area…..but it doesn’t necessarily fit with the overall direction of the painting.  It is sometimes very difficult to paint over some area that I really love, but I’m seeking the overall effect of the painting, not just a few random pieces.  This is where I’ll often take a break and come back another day to look at the painting again.  I can often spot major flaws when I give it a rest and come back later.

Here I’ve added the middle ground, leaving only the details of the main subject for last.

The final few details take the greatest time.  What to include and what to leave out?  Oh, look, I forgot the nose!  This is where taking a break from your work helps the most.

Tire Swing, Park Series, final. Kit Miracle, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30.