Step 1: On Location
I love painting outdoors, especially in the friendly wilderness of
However, there are times when on-location painting or
even sketching is not possible.
In this case, I was boating on Bear Lake, at the southern tip of Algonquin Park.
As I was with friends and in a moving boat, I chose to take photographs. I found
the dramatic cliffs and the late afternoon sun sparkling on the water very appealing.
With a few simple tools, you can easily and accurately transfer the
scene in a reference photo to your painting support.
The first step is to make a viewfinder, which is a small piece of
matboard or heavy cardboard with a window cut out of it. I prefer a
4"x3" window opening as this size is proportionate to a 24"x18" sheet of
paper. It also corresponds to the exact measurements of a miniature
painting, which I often paint with the help of a photo. However, you can
create a viewfinder in any size you prefer, just so long as it is
proportionate to your painting support.
Step 2: Translating the photo into a value sketch
Using the viewfinder, I chose a composition from the photograph and translated that into a
value sketch. Notice how I cropped the image to include only the most interesting portion of
the reference photo. The fuzzy foreground trees presented a compositional problem, which
I worked out in a 4"x3" value drawing, altering the values here and there to strengthen the
Using my viewfinder
Step 3: Transferring the image
I then divided my small value sketch and my 24"x18" white surface into
quarters to prepare to transfer
the image. I used the small sketch to mark the broad outlines of the composition onto the paper, and
as the base from which I developped the finished painting.
Step 4: The finished work
"Bear Lake I" was painted in the late afternoon sun. I wanted the painting to be predominantly cool and
chose deep dark greens and purples for the rock formations, which showed off the evening light on the
tips of the trees and, more importantly, the sparkling reflections on the water.
Bear Lake I