The photo below inspired me.   I used it as a reference as well as an inspiration.  I start by putting the photo on my monitor wallpaper so I can study all day.  I think about the colors I will use, the layers I will build, where I will start and how I want the final version to look.

Reference Photo

This painting is my final version of this photo.

Although I love the mountains and the effect of the mist mountains just did not work well in my version and all the mist became a small amount coming in from the side of the landscape.  I wanted the pine tree to be more prominent so I made it larger and the birch trees in front became smaller.  Often my paintings take on a life of their own and how I envision the painting and how it ends up in the final version usually is different.  When the painting looks finished and everything seems to flow then I sign it and walk away. How do you know when a painting is finished?  It feels finished!

Beginning your painting:  First I find a reference  photo that inspires me.  I find I must be "in the mood" to do a painting.  The more artwork you produce the more you want to use your  pastels.  Painting with your pastels quickly becomes a passion.  Every  time I sit down and  start a painting, after the first couple layers I always think, "I have no clue how to do  this!"  Then, I forget my insecurities and get into the artwork.  It rather  takes over and the  pastels start to fly around the paper.  I recently saw a quote that says,  "When  you think you don't know what you are doing is when a great painting happens."  After the painting feels to me that it is  done, I think, "Hmmm....not so sure I like this one."

 Once I  have it tacked to  my wall or take a photo of  the piece, it is then possible to see it objectively.  Then  I think, "Hmmm, not  bad!" Don't let yourself get discouraged.  Not every piece will be a "keeper".  

After you have found the subject that inspires you and you have studied how you will approach the subject, it is time to sit down and begin.  Now it is time to choose your paper.  We have discussed different papers you might want to use.  You need to decide the size you want for your painting and the main colors you will use to create the feeling you want.  The example here was done on a medium blue paper.  I used this because most of the colors are in the blue area.  Sometimes artists will say it is best to use a contrasting color for your painting.  Hmm...never really works for me so I use a color that will compliment my image and help produce the feeling I want.  Most artists say you should use a gray paper if you are doing a winter scene.  It does work.  Remember paintings are all very personal to the artist and it will be your decision which paper to use for the effect you want.

Reference photo from 

Reference Photo from PMP

Paint My Photo is an invaluable website where the photos uploaded as reference photos are taken by very talented photographers and are completely free of any copy-write claims.  This makes using any of their photos as your reference material worry free should you want to sell you paintings.  You can upload your painting of their photo to have it included in the website and also gives you an opportunity to thank the photographer for sharing their talent.  They always have lovely, uplifting things to say about your art.  That is very helpful, trust me!  Other artists on the website will often find your painting and have nice things to say as well. Happy days!

 This is my version of the reference photo.

 I chose black paper for this painting because it is all about creating a very early morning feeling when the sun has barely begun to rise.  The image has a dark feeling so my painting needed to have that same dark feeling.  Choosing the black paper was a good idea.  It is done with Artagain paper.  My favorite! The  more  paintings you do  the better you get, the better you  understand your medium and the more comfortable you become using your learned techniques and discovering new ones.  I study my completed paintings to see what I did right and what I did wrong.  Paintings usually look better from  a distance and also look  different in different lighting.  Lighting in the room makes any painting done on black paper look different so this is something to keep in mind.

Start your painting by lightly sketching areas that will define your image.  For instance, when doing a landscape you always need to have a horizon line so this is a good place to start.  Draw in your horizon line and work from there defining the general layout when doing landscapes.  You can lay out your painting by freehand sketching lightly using subtle lines you can see but will not be hard to erase or work over.  If you are doing something that requires a lot of detail you can trace the image on tracing paper and then use this to transfer details to your paper.  Now you have guidelines.  When working on your painting it is easy to get things too big or too small as you work.  Having your guidelines will keep you on track.  Different types of images require different techniques. I will be writing more articles to explain doing paintings of landscapes, animals, flowers, portraits, etc.

This should NEVER be directly in the middle of the piece.  It may come a little higher or a little lower than the middle of the paper.  Horizon lines are usually pretty straight. If you study the horizon lines in both of my paintings here you will see I veered slightly away from a straight horizon line.  It is a subtle thing but if you look closely, especially in the dark painting, the world seems a little tilted because my horizon line is not perfectly straight.  So, I don't think it spoils either painting but "lesson learned".  

More to follow....I hope this helps.  My next article will be about colors and values when it comes to blocking in your colors.