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Mar 19
Arts and Poetry
A Painting’s Progression

Photo1paintings and article by Christine Labich
Pioneer Valley Shambhala Center

I’ve noticed lately that painting is a lot like moving forward in life. Inspiration, action, communication, and letting go seem to have their place. In the case of this painting, the inspiration came from a particular field that I have been visiting for years. It is never the same field twice. One day the hills beyond recede into the fog and the grass is a bold green, another day the hills glow purple, and the grass is electric with dandelion flowers.

Last spring I stood and painted with soft pastels in this field, drawn by the relationship between the colors of the far hills and a line of trees in the middle distance that were just beginning to leaf out. The scene was an impossible richness of different shades of green, and I felt happy to be alive there.

The aliveness and a sense of longing that I felt sketching led me to do a larger oil painting based on the same scene. Because of the many colors of green that I wanted to work with, I started with an under-painting of a red-brown, guessing from experience that this base would both keep the greens from looking artificial and unify the whole (photo 1). The first layer of paint is where the big decisions happen. Where are the major shapes? What areas will be dark, light? Every movement of my brushes from here on in will be in relationship to these first choices.


Photo3In the next step, I’ve started to work on a sense of distance, and I am beginning to bring out the color relationships that first captured me on that spring day (photo 2). I pay attention to how the colors are communicating with each other, and I am often surprised at how the paint needs to be mixed to display the relationship I am searching for. For example, the “green” of the far field in photo 2 only looks green because of what it is next to. You can see the same paint in the center of the palette in photo 3, looking like a light clay.

In photo 4, I have gone back into the hills, imagining that my brush is the sunlight grazing across the tops of the trees. The relationship between the lighter gray-green and the purples that were already there make the purples appear to be in shadow. I have also begun to layer many shades of green in the foreground field.


Next, I add the line of trees, whose spring leaves caught my attention as they vibrated against the hazy purple grey of the hills (Photo 5). I keep their greens electric. The red-brown of the under-painting shows up pink and magenta now, as it peeks out from under all that green. At this point the vibration of the new leaves against the hills seems to be happening, and although the thought comes up that I could fuss with details here and there, it is time to let go.


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10 responses to “ A Painting’s Progression ”
  1. Fantastic description of your process, its interesting “The first layer of paint is where the big decisions happen.” that is so, just like, “roughing out” a wood carving where the relationships, the landscape of highs and lows are established. The time to be bold and confident, where the karma established will influence so much.

  2. Barbara Lynn
    Mar 26, 2013

    Chris, thank you for showing the sequence of how the painting comes into being. Beautiful and fascinating.

  3. Rebecca Hazell
    Mar 25, 2013

    As a fellow artist, I was delighted by your article on your creative process and its relationship to life. Thanks so much for sharing, and in such beautiful and practical detail!

  4. Graciela Marin
    Mar 25, 2013

    Wow, thanks for the instruction, your generosity… and inspiration.

  5. Christine thank you for a lovely surprise when opening my email. Being a painter also, I have seen many of these paintings in progress articles but none with such a sensitive expression of what is going on in the artists mind along with an explanation of the technique. Interesting how each stage of the painting seems complete in itself. It is almost like you four lovely works of art here. Thank you!

  6. Michael Anderson
    Mar 25, 2013

    Thank you, Christine! It is wonderful to see your process like this. I am a middle school art teacher, and yes – at least in my classroom – we DO teach and reflect on the thinking process like this. What a beautiful example.

  7. Susan Spilman
    Mar 25, 2013

    Thanks so much. Your process very interesting and i love the work!!

  8. How wonderful to learn how a scene can be built up by knowledge of how colors and shades complement each other and to have these photographs to make it clear. Thank you !

  9. I was fascinated to learn how this artist chose colors and features and used photography to help us understand the thought process. Made me wonder if this method is taught in art school.

  10. Jonathan Hanna
    Mar 19, 2013


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