Designing a painting - early stages

I’m back to talk about how I design compositions. More than a few years ago I got the chance to photograph at opening day of the Arapahoe Hunt club. I took hundreds of photos. Among them many close-ups of the hounds. I have kept these photos in my future ideas file and finally pulled them out and started working.


I needed to figure out how to take the idea of these photos and pull them into a cohesive visual statement. The first thing I did was zero in on the dog in the above photo who is looking straight at the viewer with a lovely expression. He will be the focal point of this painting. My thought was if I use the rule of thirds and place his head close to the upper right corner of the painting the rest of the dogs will be secondary. There are a lot of things happening in these images so it is necessary to edit the dogs by thinking about the placement of shadows and shape. The next stage is to do a small pencil sketch to see how to put them all together.


Once I can see how this idea looks and how all the shapes are fitting into an overall composition I am ready to start the final painting. For this piece I will do a fairly detailed underpainting, which is essentially a monochromatic version of the painting which simply shows me the placement of shapes and the values that will be used.


Here I can see the dark light pattern and the beginnings of the value relationships. I will continue to work on this stage a bit more. I don’t always do underpaintings, sometimes I am just too impatient, however this piece feels like I need a map to follow so I get all the pieces working well together. I will continue to post progress pictures perhaps here and on my Instagram account at rsfineart. Wish me luck!

Working on limited palette ideas

Here are a few pics from a current project. I was curious about the limited palette approach and decided to finally start giving it a try.

The first piece is staying mostly with a cad yellow, payne’s gray, venetian red and then I’m throwing in some ideas in the rider’s shirt with some manganese blue. Its been really fun and may end up being recreated at a larger size depending on how it turns out.


This next one is payne’s gray, lemon yellow and alizarin crimson. Not very far along on this one. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.


What a great time!

The inaugural Dressage Symposium is over but I am still enjoying the spectacle of top riders and horses as I edit and organize the many, many photos I took over the four days.   It was a fantastically fun time.   Thank you to the Horse Park for their support of my work and trusting me to shoot the photos of their top clinicians.   Here are a few of the highlights.  I've got enough snaps to do an entire series of dressage paintings!  


Steffen Peters schooling a rider's horse.  What an experience to photograph him riding! 

Steffen Peters schooling a rider's horse.  What an experience to photograph him riding! 

A beautiful pair.

A beautiful pair.

Working on the Piaffe. 

Working on the Piaffe. 

Gorgeous profile.

Gorgeous profile.

Dressage Symposium at the Colorado Horse Park

I'm pulling together some examples of my work to show work at the Dressage Symposium at the Colorado Horse Park.   I'm thrilled to be able to display my work, hang out with fellow Dressage addicts and watch Olympic riders like Steffan Peters teach live and in person! I will have a display set up in the VIP tent so come by and say hello.   

Currently on the easel...

I'm still in the beginning stages these two western pieces.   I shot the reference photos this past summer at the Elizabeth Stampede.

The first is a pick up rider chasing a bronco who has successfully "lost" his rider.  And the second is a bronco who is also riderless and showing off his power and beauty.  

The second piece has no background yet because I am planning to add a silver leaf foil into the negative space once the paint is dry.  After that I will probably glaze in some details.   

American Academy of Equine Arts Fall show

I've just finished shipping out two pieces for the AAEA fall show in Kentucky.  Unfortunately I will not be able to make the opening reception because of scheduling conflicts but sometime soon I hope to get out to Kentucky to see the vast horse farms and visit the Academy.   I am also super honored to have one of my pieces chosen for a spot on the cover of the flyer for the show.   Thanks AAEA!  



Working on paper

I do a lot of these little sketches on paper.  There is something about the way the paint adheres to the surface that I just love.   This shot was taken at the county fair in Pueblo Colorado and had several other riders in the background.  I like to simplify backgrounds so all the attention in paid to the horse and rider.   

Burnt Umber Sketches

I've been working out some ideas for paintings through these small monochromatic sketches and I think they are actually kinda interesting in their own right.  Sometimes they help me to figure out the drawing and value aspects of a particular image and sometimes I do them just for fun.   


Process of creating a painting

When I am working on a piece I always take photos of each stage of completion.  This is a tool my painter mentor taught me.  It enables me to see the work as it develops and identify what is working and what isn't.   If I get stuck it also allows me to go back and try to track where things started going wrong.  These are the records of how Team Roping was created.   I always start with composition sketches to work out the design and layout of the piece.  From there I often do a small color sketch painting.  Doing a small version usually helps me figure out my values and color schemes and enables me to tackle areas that might be a problem when painting is blown up to larger version.  


Preliminary sketch.


First stage is the underpainting - usually done in burnt umber tones.  

   I started with the steer however I often work in an all-over manner when starting a painting and don't focus on one element.     


I started with the steer however I often work in an all-over manner when starting a painting and don't focus on one element.  



Close-up of steer.`


Now horses and background going in. 


Final product.