Creating The Painting: "Mission Hills Palms"

In this article you can see the steps I took in creating a photorealist-inspired painting, from drawing on the canvas to the final brush stroke.

The original photo that inspired this painting was taken on a walk in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego, California, United States. I also took a photo of some interesting clouds in Presidio Park that were incorporated in the background. Many of the houses in the Mission Hills area are interesting architecturally, and were inspired by Italian and Art Deco styles. My father was an architect, and I absorbed an appreciation of the forms of buildings, and the artwork, such as drawing, draftsmanship, design and photography that went into creating them.

This was my first color oil painting, done in a classroom setting with encouragement from the painter and teacher Andre Rushing. This was after I did a couple of practice oils in monochrome. Before this I painted with acrylics, doing abstracts for about 15 years off and on, and learned how to handle paint, mix colors, apply composition and express ideas with paint; then I got into photography for about 7 years. When I saw the effects that people could achieve with oil paints that were photo-like, for example to represent clouds (which was my favorite subject), I knew I had to try it.

In addition to photographing clouds in infrared, I love plants, the three-dimension structure of buildings and how light plays on them, the shadows and a certain kind of Southern California feeling, a certain quality of light, as some of the photorealists (e.g., Robert Bechtle) were inspired to represent in their work . Though challenging, it was worth it to me to go to the extreme discipline and focus of making such a painting. Not only did I want the skills, but I loved photorealist paintings, and photography.

The stages in these photos represent the work of one day's painting session in the studio generally. In other words, the stages named are arbitrary, except that of course they occur in a necessary sequence such as doing a drawing first, or an under-layer before an over layer, etc.

I was taught to work from dark to light, but I don't always follow that, depending on the circumstances. All rules are for breaking.

The most difficult parts of this painting were the clouds and the palm trees. The clouds were difficult because it's best to do them wet-on-wet, especially for the wispy cirrus clouds. So if you don't get it right the first time, and the paint dries, you need to do a bit more work, plus color matching, getting the edges to look natural, etc.


(Note: the colors can vary from shot to shot because of lighting, and white balance issues with the camera.)

(click on a photo to enlarge and read about it)