Paint Water and Sky with Jon R. Friedman

Paint Water and Sky with Jon R Friedman
Low Tide, Sunrise (acrylic and oil, 30×96)

One Clean Sweep:
Before beginning Low Tide, Sunrise, I decided that the essence of the image should be an instantaneous, panoramic sweep. I wanted the painting to smack the viewer’s eye with an elemental immediacy, presenting a luminous triad of air, earth and water—and then releases the viewer to linger over details of tone and texture.

Five-Step Demo: Click on each demo image to see a larger image.

Paint Water and Sky free demonstration with Jon R Friedman
1. Composition Sketch
After priming my canvas with acrylic gesso, I sketched my composition with a diluted acrylic wash. Nibbling away at the image with brushes wouldn’t give me the fast feeling of dramatic, holistic color chords I wanted, so I decided to use my Iwata spray gun. With masking tape and plastic sheeting, I covered the beach and water and then sprayed on the intial sky color with Golden liquid acrylic. In this photo the plastic has been pulled away, showing the first application of color. Before moving on, I remasked and continued spraying until I was fully satisfied with the sky.

Paint Water and Sky free demonstration with Jon R Friedman
2. Basic Coloring
Next I covered the sky and sprayed the basic light blue-gray color of the water over the lower canvas. My studio doesn’t have a good exhaust system so I worked on the initial stages of the canvas outside.

Paint Water and Sky free demonstration with Jon R Friedman
3. Frisket Paper
Moving inside, I laid the canvas flat on a tabletop and adhered prepared frisket paper (waterproof tracing paper with an adhesive backing) to the painting’s surface. Over the next few days, I cut the tidal-pool and runnel shapes from the paper with a frisket knife—which has a blade that rotates 360 degrees for cutting intricate shapes. The transparent frisket paper allowed me to see my acrylic sketch underneath, but because this sketch was rough, I was drawing and composing as I cut.

When I finished cutting, I pulled away the frisket surrounding the pools and runnels and then sprayed the exposed beach areas with dark, gray-browns. In this photo, the spraying is finished, and the tape, plastic and frisket-paper mask are removed. The basic color chords and the fundamental divisions of the composition are in place.

Paint Water and Sky free demonstration with Jon R Friedman
4. Blending
I used oils and a variety of brushes for the clouds, which feel “meaty” and tactile compared to the spray-painted sky. To intensify the lower right of the sky, I mixed my colors with Grumbacher Alkyd painting medium and blended them into the spray-painted sky, using a variety of soft, fan-shaped brushes. For the subtle tonalities and tide-carved surface of the beach, I dragged and pressured paint onto the canvas with silicone-tipped Colour Shapers (Royal Sovereign). These let me create precise edges, where one color butts against another, and also smear colors together seamlessly—so the beach appears shaped by the surf rather than assembled from calculated brushstrokes.

Paint Water and Sky free demonstration with Jon R Friedman
5. Finishing Touches
Dragging and blending paint across an 8-foot horizontal canvas is an almost athletic activity, and the workability of the paint changes from moment to moment, resulting in a kind of give-and-take wrestling match. After about an hour, the paint is too dry to continue manipulating. The final appearance of the beach is the result of many built-up layers, leading to a dense, subtly striated opacity that stands in marked contrast to the sky’s transparent luminosity.

Originally I had included the diminutive figure of a fisherman off to the left, like a visual staple joining beach, water and sky. In the end, I eliminated the figure because it was too much of a visual magnet, preventing the eye from roaming freely along the beach in Low Tide, Sunrise (acrylic and oil, 30×96).

Born in 1947 in Washington, D.C., Jon Friedman received a bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University and a master of fine arts degree from Cranbrook Art Academy in Michigan. He has also studied at Corcoran Museum School and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. His works are part of numerous public and private collections, and the artist regularly appears in solo and group shows. During late 2007 and early 2008, the Cape Cod Museum of Art hosted an exhibition of his portrait studies on paper and his large landscapes. Several of his preliminary studies for portrait commissions were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Friedman divides his time between his studios in Cape Cod, Maine and New York City. Visit his website at


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