30 Paintings and How I Took Them From Good to Great

1

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After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wave that crosses diagonally needed to be broken up in the right half, so I added a break in the foam. Also, the ocean side of it was too sudden. Viewed from the top like this there would be a long sweep of foam trailing seaward, so some was added but not enough to lead all the way out of the top of the piece. It might be assumed that the focal point is the rock upper left, in which case it should be moved to situate it about a third of the way down, and a third in. This would avoid the eye from being drawn a little too high in the work.  However, the purpose of this composition is to be circular, as a viewer can travel down along the left until the grass is met, then along the grass to the foreground rock, and returning along the right side rocks.  It probably could have been strengthened even more by adding more white to the foam on the left and right to enhance the contrast of the eye path.

2

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After

The background is critical in any painting, and in this one it’s too dominant.  A cleaner horizon would increase the sense of depth, and connecting the clouds more would make it seem less contrived, drawing less attention So the horizon sky was lightened, clouds were added coming from the top edge and also to connect the center and right, and the foreground foam was highlighted further.

3

Before

After

There should be more evidence of wet sand, and the length of shadows of those rocks circled in red made the area seem out of sync.

I shortened those shadows and darkened the and near the water line.

If the sand is compact and fairly flat there should be some visible patches of sky reflection, so I realized that the dark areas also needed this sky color.  It would still be darker than the other water, but needed a cooler color temperature than how I had it painted already.

4

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After

Sunsets are tricky subjects, and, funnily enough, rely on great subtlety of color usage to pull them off. While they seem to be a blaze of color, mostly the color is not as high a chroma as might be imagined, and there is often a need for skilled blending in color transitions.  High chroma yellows and oranges will mix with blues and purples (when wet) to create unwanted greens.  Luckily I avoided most of those issues with a lot of gray in the sky already.  The sea on the other hand had too strong of a blue. The waviness of the horizon was an immediate problem, one that I make all too often and very common in other artists’ works.  I added a much lighter gray blue there to straighten it and also highlighted much more of the water with this lighter grays (both warm and cool).  In the sky I pulled streaks of lighter color through, coming from the sun with white paint that was thinned and then wiped in the same direction to get those rays to show up and soften some of the clouds’ edges.

5

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After

The sea was far too high in chroma, pretty overwhelming in its intensity, and the sea felt disconnected from the sky.  The original sea color was ultramarine and a touch of viridian. This newer one is still mostly ultramarine with white, but also some cerrulean and cadmium red light to get it slightly more gray. This new color covered much of the sea to bring it and the sky closer together.  I also added some reflection of the wave foam at the middle-left with a light blue  color, and blurring the edges with a soft brush.

6

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After

The fixes here were simple and needed to establish more depth. First was to straighten and lighten the horizon water to make it softer. The other item is the rock formation in the upper right. I find this to be distracting especially with the small wave in perfect line with it. I still liked the break in the sea’s monotony though, so I softened the rocks edges with that lighter sea color, and also added more highlight to the wave in line with it to even out the contrasts.

7

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After

I wanted to emphasize the light just starting up a fresh day over the cliffs/ headlands. I kept the sea pretty neutral so that the clouds would stick out more, but it had the effect of too much calm and not enough color contrast. I was aiming for the focus to be up from the center and a bit to the right. Thought about putting in some driftwood in the lower left but decided it would be distracting. The first problem was the composition.  The strongest diagonals were those starting mid foreground, and as you can see, they take the eye to exit right. Additionally, the diagonals spread and don’t converge. Strong eye paths should converge at your focal point. The light direction was ambiguous. The nearest cliff face is very dark, suggesting it is in deep shadow, yet there is little shadow from the cliff on the beach or in the water. To correct all of this, the nearest waves got more detail and bluer (higher chroma) shadows; shadows were elongated over the water, and the waves made to converge into the distance.

I painted the last bit at night what I thought was decent lighting. When I saw what looked like a yellow neon sign in my clouds I had to go do some touch ups.

8

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After

The foam holes were too dark and also too round and similar in size. Also the foreground water needed more definition so I added more foam patterns.

9

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After

The foreground needed slightly more detail and contrast to match what was in the background, so it was very important to let the painting dry before adding those details.  Lastly, the background had a good chroma too it, much less saturation than the foreground, but the completely cool top of the canvas vs completely warm bottom was a compositional issue.  So with a low chroma yellow – lots of white and very little cadmium yellow, the background sky was repainted on the right which helped compositionally and enhanced the light.

10

Before

After

The foam burst at the top right was effective at grabbing attention but would have made a very difficult composition to solve, also I would need to add some object to physically cause the large burst.  So I opted to remove and bring the focal point only to the top left. In this next iteration I greatly softened the edges of the foam on the right. I intended the hardest edges to be over on the left.

To finish the piece, I added additional shadows to indicate planes and perspective, broke up some of the white foam areas, and changed the shape of the rolling foam at the focal point to suggest movement and increase interest.

11

Small Study

I started with a smaller study, mostly the composition was interesting and the perspective was unique.  Since it was so different, I wanted to test it first.  I felt that the warm / cool variation in the water was too much, and too lessen the saturation of the warm colors to better capture the foggy Monterey coastline.

Before

After

The initial painting lacked definition in the rocks and flowery vegetation, so I added highlihgts to those areas and darkened the shadowed foam near the rocks.

The foreground still needed more warmth / detail, overall I wanted still more movement and light.  I added more cadmium yellow light in the vegetation, scumbled some lighter color into the shadowed rocks and broke up the base more, and added more white highlights to the foam throughout to avoid the top right from being overly dark.

12

Before

After

I began with a block in of the major areas including gradients.  Basically everything but detailed highlights, and it seemed to read decently.  Then I added highlights in the water, yellow + white to the top right and wave tops, blue and white over much of the water, light green to the birds of paradise lower left, and blues, purples, greens to the other vegetaion to emphasize the warm vs cool.

The dappled highlights were effective but seemed to outweigh the rest of the painting.  So I darkened the rocks and plants with washes of cad red and blue, and added the heads of the birds of paradise to both direct the eye inwards, but all provide an opposing area of interest at the bottom right. Using the same dark wash, I also darkened the lower part of the birds of paradise to make it fade into the compositional base at the painting’s bottom edge.

13

Before

After

The headland looked unfinished.  The painting was also in a high key, so achieving dramatic lighting was a challenge.  So the headlands and rocks got darkened while the waves tops got highlighted further.

The horizontal cast shadow of an object is always lighter in value than the shadow side of the object casting the shadow – it is usually cooler too as it picks up more sky color. I needed to go a little darker on the vertical wall of the wave in the area of greatest shadow (left hand side) and lighter (relative to the now darkened vertical shadow) and on the cast shadow.

14

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After

The foreground being darker would make for good contrast and god composition. Claude Monet’s “La Pie” is shown here for reference to see just how dark foreground snow shadows can be painted to maximize the illusion of sunlight.  I thought learning from that master would be a great way to improve this painting!

15

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After

In this, the main objective was to explore depth, lots of depth!  So the perspective was already drawn in, and left mostly color changes needed.  I darkened the bottom and foreground limbs, added local color (green) in the trees nearest leaves at top left, and the background bushes were grayed more.

16

Before

After

This painting lacked a certain amount of wetness to the water, even though the values were dramatic.  I softened the sand up front and water before the wave with glazes to unify the piece, then dry brushed the wave foam reflections for a more wet appearance.

17

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After

Since some of the waves were too sharp, I either needed to make more, or make less.  I figured less would be boring and offer less contrast, so I added to the dark faces of the waves.  Also, for interest and a lead-in, I added some wet areas to the sand to reflect the sky above.

18

Before

After

This painting was too even in terms of color temperature.  The background hills were gray, but also too warm so I started by adding much more blue to them, then darkening the middle ground tree’s shadows.  The sea and sky needed more light blue as well to both brighten the scene and push them back.  Lastly, I used pure cadmium yellow light to bring out the fields of flowers with more intensity.

19

Before

After

There were so many problems with this piece at first, it was hard to know where to begin.  I knew that the biggest problem was one of a cohesive painting.  Colors didn’t work together, values, shapes.  So I joined the clouds, nixed that high chroma blue shadow in the wave, and covered the foam holes with lighter color.

The upper clouds shapes were improved, but their value still competed with the foreground, so I lightened them and darkened areas of the sea and sand.

20

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After

I just introduced some more variation into the foam, you can see more highlights and holes., and a little more highlighting to the rocks.  Overall the purpose was to create more movement by introducing more lines and spots to pull the eye.

21

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After

The thing that caught my eye was the repeated shape of the background area.Also the tree trunk lacked reflected light / shadow highlights.  These highlights in shadow are both cool and dark, but give much more sense of light and space to the scene

The branches shadow was also making unneeded and distracting negative space at the paintings bottom edge.  I added broken color (more cool color of a similar value) all over the ground, especially in the tree’s shadows where there is much more blue and purple now.  Then cooled the sky away from the sun and darkened those leaves to enhance the light.

22

Before

After

I grayed the background headland, and added darkened wave faces.  The rocks got more highlights and the sky warmed up with white and burnt sienna.

I wanted strong light which meant a clearer day, so actually the headland needed to be darkened back some.  Instead of a warm sky, I left the horizon warmish, and put blue back into the top.  I gave the foam shadows even more light blue, stronger white higlights, and the lightest rock highlights.  In the middle, I also adjusted the pattern of lines swirling around the rocks since curving lines give a plane more depth.

23

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After

Was the light uniform, strong enough, interesting? Did the water look compelling?  I knew the wet sand needed reflections, and the light wasn’t carrying through the whole piece. so I lightened much of the water’s shadows with a light blue, strengthened the highlights all over, and scumbled in the reflections on the wet sand.

24

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After

The rocks at the bottom were not enought to be a compositional base, so they were simply distracting.  I removed most of them and left a small one for interest but not too much. I lightened and blued the sky.  I also blued many of the water’s / foam’s shadows to make the warm side of light feel brighter.

25

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After

I thought that this would make a better sunset piece, so I added warm colors to the horizon and rocks.  I realized the sea needed the same color reflected on much of it, and the foam highlihgts needed to have that orange mixed into their white as well.

26

Before

After

 

This piece had color issues, like many of the others, and the water needed more reflections.  The two could solve the same problem, so I took away much of the sky’s variation, added more sky color to the water, and highlights to the rocks.  The strokes in the sky were also distracting and didn’t achieve the effect I wanted. In the finished piece, the structure of shapes is unchanged, but I did try to bring the colors closer together, and changing around the sky. For my own reference to see the colors more clearly, I used GIMP to isolate some of the important grays in my reference image.  But some aspects of the image I wanted changed such as the lack of red and very dark foreground.

27

Before

After

The horizon had a big dip in it to the right.  The challenge to correct this is the broken color in the sky, after drying it’s near impossible to recreate without completely redoing, because of the challenge to mix the colors and the strokes.  I decided the best option would be to highlight the horizon further and blur it more.  I darkened the foam’s shadows as well but that is very minor.

28

This one is more of a WIP that built until it was finished, but there was a point when I thought it might be done, and then pushed it further.

Before

After

At this point I thought maybe it was complete, but realized the shadows were not dark enough and the rocks could be more defined

29

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After

The greenery above the wave could be softened or smaller or lighter in value, anything to create the needed separation.  I opted for lighter with softer edges. Also, with such a large foreground, more detail becomes important.  However, I had to add strokes and shapes within similar values to avoid losing the current composition.  So, not all sense of light is achieved by values, hues are also important, and sometimes the majority of the painting needs to be lighter or darker (lighter in this case).

30

Before

After

I began corrections by darkening the water, and adding a lightened area between the foreground and middle ground.  I introduced purple to the foreground rock shadows and more orange in the grass highlights. I lowered the right most hill, by bringing down the sky and lightening the sky there.  Then I intensified the warmth of foreground rock color with even more red.  The distant trees are darker and warmer to put them into the middle ground rather than background.  There was a perspective problem and the background hill was meeting the sea at the same level so I wanted to emphasize the difference in distance.  I also raised the sea near that background spot to correct the linear perspective issue.  Lastly I darkened deep areas of transparent water

 

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