So, What’s Your Hook?

Knowing the hook—or what it is that attracted me to a certain scene—is key to producing a successful landscape painting. It’s the concept. If I don’t know why I’m doing it, then I won’t know what to do. Following this concept is also useful in terms of knowing when a painting is finished. Think of it like going for a drive in an automobile. If I don’t know where I am going, how will I know when I have arrived? This is not to say that every painting has to be overly planned, which can take all of the spontaneity out of the experience. But a level of awareness as to what interested us can go a long way in helping us stay on course, get back on course when a detour happens, and ultimately reach our final destination.


Dune Textures (plein air pastel, 11×14) by Richard McKinley

An Interest in Design: The hook, or concept, for one of my paintings rarely has to do with objects. It’s not that I’m not attracted to certain objects within the landscape (such as poplar trees or canal waterways), it’s that, for me, the broader abstract design elements—shape, depth, movement, texture, value and color—are more vital. These are the tools that make the objects interesting and beautiful. We can associate pleasant memories to objects, but the effects of design elements can take even an ugly object and make it beautiful.

Hooked on Texture: Deciding what to paint amidst spectacular beauty can be overwhelming. Recently, I was with a group in Carmel, California. When we arrived at Monastery Beach for an afternoon of painting with Point Lobos to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and groves of eucalyptus trees to the north, it was hard to choose. Standing at the front of our car, I noticed a section of the dunes in front of the restrooms. Orange California poppies were disbursed among the grasses with textural notes of lemon-yellow wildflowers dancing among the scene. Patches of sand showed through, creating wonderful negative space patterns. Fog cloaked the distant traces of Point Lobos. I had found my hook: a simple section of coastal dunes that could have been along any coastline. It was the texture and depth of the scene that was my impetus. Of course, I did decide to leave the bathroom structure out!






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