Creating a painting, step by step. The frustrations and the rewards.

I have been asked recently about one of the pieces I painted for the CCL show. It’s the one that’s 14 inches wide and 60 inches long and is entitled ‘Light Shot with Birds’. The poem by Betty Adcock is entitled Topsail Island and the line is “For now, the island’s mine, talking a cold tongue blue, the light shot with birds.” Don’t you just love that poetry line? I would love to create a whole series of paintings just using that one line; to me it’s so extraordinary.

So I decided I would write about and show you how that painting came into being, once I had read these words several times.

A friend of mine, Jeffrey Dunne, lives in Daytona Beach and every morning, 365 days a year, he gets up and goes to the beach to photograph the beginning of the day. Then he posts the best 5 to 10 shots on Facebook. We are invited to download any or all that we like. So it’s from his files that I had downloaded this photograph:

Photograph by Jeffrey Dunne

Photograph by Jeffrey Dunne

Now if that’s not “ light shot with birds” I don’t know what else could be… certainly nothing I had in my photos from Topsail. I LOVED it. Perfect!

I started by painting a beautiful blue as my tone ground with an acrylic on my canvas. (Which, by the way, is a canvas I’d stretched myself.) Then using vine charcoal, I roughly drew the birds in, along with the replacement of the waves. I must tell you that I really loved the painting at this point. I love the birds… I love the water. I had wanted the whole painting to have the same grey colors of the photo. But here it was blue and I loved it that way as well!


Now was the time to start blocking in the base coats of oil paint. I started with the sky, then worked on the water. In my mind, this phase did not go well. Below is where I was at that point. Notice there’s hardly any grey and the blue had lost its appeal! Paintings do talk to you as you work through the various stages - that I do know - and that’s when it can be most enjoyable. So I “followed the painting’s lead” and continued on.


In developing the water with the waves, the birds started to go away. I became very unhappy with the with the entire painting. So one morning upon arriving at the studio, I just mixed up a whole bunch of blues, greens, creams and violets and taking my biggest palette knife in hand, I started putting in color. (I wasn’t concerned at all with the birds at this point, or the grey; I was trying to recover the painting).

And this is what I ended up with… a far, far cry from the grey photo, huh? Do you love it? Just look at those colors!

IMG_6534 2.jpeg

I was in love with the colors of the water and the sky, but there are no birds! So I just lived with the painting for several days. I needed to decide where the birds were going to be, how many birds were going in, and what color they were going to be. Below is my first pass at adding birds back into the painting. It didn’t seem quite right for my title - ‘Light Shot with Birds’.


I decided to show it to one of my painting groups for advice. When I did, I got about six different opinions on whether to add more birds and what color the birds should be and etc. So I knew that I was going to have to decide for myself how to answer all those questions. Here’s a close-up of one segment that shows part of what I came up with.


Okay… that’s how I created ‘Light Shot with Birds’ and my answer to the question at the beginning.

Now let me show you the finished painting on the wall at the Center for Creative Leadership. (I just love how Laura Gibson, the curator at CCL, puts a show together.) And in other news about this particular painting… it sold before I delivered to CCL!


I do love to paint! And one of the most interesting things in the evolution of a painting is the many facets - good and bad - that an artist goes through in creating a piece of work. Often when I have finished a painting - such as this one - I am totally surprised that the creation actually came from my hand! It is exciting, it is exhilarating and it is very rewarding. Oh, yes, sometimes it can also be frustrating! Which can be an interesting part as well, and one of the many reasons I love to paint. Have any of you experienced this in your paintings or your line of work?  I sure hope so, and I’d love for you to share with me some of your own experiences. I’m sure I’m not the only one!