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Making preparatory studies

"How long did it take you to paint that?"

I am often asked. Most people don't understand the work that goes into a painting before any paint touches canvas. I'm talking about preparatory studies.

If you've never done them, they are value sketches, color studies, and pre planning so that when you stand before that blank canvas and summon up your courage to express yourself, you don't draw a blank! You want to have a plan, know where your focal point is, your pattern of darks and lights, and what color combinations you will rely upon.

I try to make my mistakes on a smaller scale...

My materials are expensive and time is precious, so I want to make the most of it. So, I make a value sketch which takes about 10 mins.

Here's a value sketch....

Value study top, color study bottom

And this is a color study which took about 10 mins as well. What I learned from the value sketch is where the pattern of darks will be and that the birds and trees will probably be the focal points. What I learned from the color study is that the dominant compliments will be orange and blue so I'll use a split complimentary palette (more on that next week).

Here's the finished piece "Summer Heat" Pastel 16x20 You can see how both sketches added to the composition and color choices. The extra 30 mins of prep work made the painting time quicker and more efficient. When I stood in front of the easel, it only took about 90 minutes to paint this, because I had a plan, had my palette laid out (from doing the color study) and knew what I was doing. I had worked out all the problems ahead of time so painting time went smoothly.

"Summer Heat" Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord 16x20

It is worth the investment of a little preparatory time and effort to plan your paintings. Try this at home, set a timer and give yourself 10 mins to do a value sketch, then 10 mins. to do a color study. Use these sketches to inform your choices in the painting; darks, lights, focals, etc. I'd love to hear from you about your experiences and see any sketches you do so feel free to add them to my blog below.

117 views3 comments


This blog post is so informative! It would have saved me aggrivation had I seen it earlier, lol. Thank you, Shawn!!


Can't wait to hear how it turns out! Post a pic when your done!


I am going to try to do this. I am so impulsive and can’t wait yo dive right in. Going out Monday am and I will do it😀

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