Painting a River Scene

This painting was commissioned by by an avid Fly Fisherman. He approached me and asked me to create a painting that would combine 4 or 5 different types of landscapes and terrains that he had encountered in his travels while fishing. The landscapes where all from all over the Pacific Northwest. I researched several areas, and we began with some preliminary sketches to narrow down the layout for the painting. 

After settling on a layout with the river moving toward the viewer, I drew out the scene on the raw canvas in graphite and then applied a couple layers of clear Gesso over the drawing. That way I could use the drawing as a guide for my underpainting. 

For the underpainting, I used a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber. I thin the paint for my underpainting with terpenoid or other odorless mineral spirits. This allows me to apply thin washes of oil paint that are fairly thin and dry quickly. My main focus at this stage is to capture the overall feel of the light and shadows of each area of the painting. This will be my guide when I begin applying color.

A small digression on the topic of the underpainting. When I was studying at UNLV, in my very first painting class, I remember our professor told us that an underpainting should be a painting in and of itself, that even if we left a piece unfinished that it would still be beautiful because of the  underpainting. Maybe it's just the romantic in me, but I love that notion that even under the finished painting there is a monotone painting that is just as beautiful - and perhaps sometimes more beautiful - than the finished piece. Whenever I do an underpainting for a piece I always try to keep that in mind and make it as finished as I can. I also love that the underpainting can show through the other layers of paint. I feel like it gives it a unique glow.

Once the underpainting is dry I begin to add color. I began with the grassy bank on the right of the painting. One of the things that I love about painting is mixing the colors. They are never what you think they will be. In this grass for example - once I started studying the area there was much more yellow than I had initially thought their would be. So while there is green - which we all assume is the color of grass - there was equal if not more amounts of yellow. 

Next I moved on to the background and added values into the sky and atmosphere. I went about building this painting a little differently than I have in the past. Particularly I painted elements that I knew may not show through in the final painting. For example, the trees. I went through and actually painted the tree trunks before painting the boughs on the trees. I wanted to capture the texture in case any of it needed to show through. But I feel like it also brought more life into the painting. It's not just an image of what you see, but it has depth of the elements under what is scene as well.

Since I was painting this specifically for a fisherman who spends a ton of time on the river I was a little nervous to actually paint the river. It needed to be the highlight of the painting and look like an actual river (obviously). So naturally I saved that for last. He specifically asked that I reference the McKenzie River which has a bit more of a greenish tint to the water. After some additional research on the colors and movement of water in a river I began laying down the initial washes over the underpainting. In the area on the right made sure the paint wasn't to heavy so that the underpainting could should through a bit. 

The next steps where adding more details and highlights in the water, making areas of the river smoother and darker so they looked deep. I used a palette knife to achieve some of those affects. I also went through the rest of the painting and additional details and color spots to pull the entire painting together.