Painting Outward From a Focal Point | Demonstration in Oil

Color Harmonies: Kate Sammons

In luminous portraits and still lifes, in which she seeks to capture a “sense of light cascading over a form,” Kate Sammons achieves tactile realism and depth of field. Key to her success are close observation and a deliberate application of paint that reveals extraordinary mastery of craft. Her objective is to render more than one ideal viewing distance, to maintain an illusion that attracts a viewer from across the room but that also stands up to closer scrutiny. “I try to offer enough realism in some areas of my painting,” she says, “where my imagination and sensibility stay in balance even upon close examination.”


1. Prepare the Workspace

I arranged three plums in a vase and placed them on my desktop in the natural light from a window. I prepared my palette with lamp black, raw umber, cobalt blue, Mars violet, Venetian red, Indian red, cadmium red medium, vermillion, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow and titanium white.


2. Capture the View

In this painting, I wanted to catch the way the edges of the plums look when viewed with a fresh eye—rather than the way I’d perceive them after studying each one separately over an extended period of time. I believe capturing this momentary view is one of the things that gives my final painting a unified look. This pencil sketch was my shorthand method for quickly and accurately observing the way the edges fade away or come into view.


3. Make a Color Sketch

I wanted to further study the edges by filling in the volume to see the form and the color of the plums and vase. I focused on value, shape and color. To create a sense of naturalism, I squint at my subject and note the edges; some come forward and become sharper while others recede and become softer. This color sketch, rendered in pastel pencil, saved me from having to think too hard about the way the edges should look when I was in the middle of painting the setup.


4. Sketch a Simple Outline

For the support I used a ¼-inch-thick, 8×10-inch hardboard panel, primed with Liquitex gesso ground and sanded smooth. Taking care to observe the symmetry of the vase, I sketched a correctly measured but simple outline. I painted the first plum in one layer, with each small detail carefully observed and every small area worked out before I transitioned to the next. I used relatively small brushes and straight paint to render this layer.


5. Paint Outward From Focal Point

When I paint an object, I paint outward from the focal point and usually include a small margin of the adjoining area so that I can better compare its values against the rest of the painting. I painted the first plum with a second layer to clean up some harsh gradations and add more detail. At this point the second plum has received only one paint layer and is painted in a more general way because it will be in softer focus than the first plum.


6. Proceed Through Painting

I painted the third plum and surrounding areas in one layer and then moved on to the vase and its reflections, which I also rendered with a consideration for detail. As I  proceeded through the painting, the light outline I’d made helped me keep track of my initial measurements and the placement of the elements. I erased the light charcoal marks before I painted over them.


7. Lay in Background and Foreground

Next I laid in the background and foreground. I used a second layer on the second and third plums to complete the texture and clean up any dirty transitions. Sometimes for thinner and more transparent effects, I may thin down my paint for the second layer with a small amount of Old Masters Flemish Maroger medium. I use this mixture to apply a light glaze or scumble where I need a textural effect or wish to deepen or shift a tone.


8. Refine Color Choices

Finishing the background and the foreground allowed me to paint out the visible margin around the plums, clean up transitions, refine my color choices and simplify the detail that I considered distracting in the vase. I used bigger brushes to make these broader decisions and edit information from my first layer. I hope my result, Plums (oil, 10×8), reflects the same fresh, unified vision that I initially conceived.

To read more about Kate Sammons and developing outward from a focal point, check out the June 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


Kate Sammons | Oil Painting Process

Kate Sammons | Classical Drawings in Charcoal

Click here for a free preview of video Painting Facial Features With Sharon Sprung.


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