“Coastline Dwellings” exposed

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I am asked from time to time what the motivation is behind the paintings I choose to create. The motivation varies from painting to painting. It could be as simple as the contrast of light and dark. Maybe it’s the flow of the land, interesting architecture, an intriguing mood, or an inviting challenge; but first and foremost, I must be interested and enthused about the subject.

Coastline Dwellings is a little of all of the above. Italy is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited, so that in itself was tremendous motivation. I have done a number of Italian scenes and they always seem to delight the viewer…so there’s another motivation for you.

"Coastline Dwellings" - 20"x 20" - Oil

“Coastline Dwellings” – 20″x 20″ – Oil


Tackling a painting like this requires a pretty good understanding of perspective, particularly when painting or drawing architecture, accurate drawing becomes critical to the execution of a quality realistic painting. There’s nothing more unsettling than seeing a building with windows, doors, and roofline all askew. If the drawing isn’t right, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the composition or color; the painting will feel very uncomfortable to the viewer.

I spent considerable time making sure the drawing for Coastline Dwellings was accurate in proportion and perspective. It’s not enough to have one building drawn accurately; they all need to be drawn accurately, individually, as well as in relationship to one another. This is not the time to be lazy or careless.

I do a lot of square format paintings. The shape is not only appealing but also works well in a number of decorating situations. The compositional challenge makes it enjoyable.

The initial stage of the painting is very rough in appearance. I have visualized the placement of the scene on the canvas. Using raw umber, the canvas has been toned and the lightest areas have been lifted out with a paper towel and mineral spirits. Once the elements are all properly placed, a careful drawing of the scene from the focal point outward begins.

Canvas has been toned with raw umber. LIghtest areas have been wiped out, drawing begins.

Canvas has been toned with raw umber. Lightest areas have been wiped out, drawing begins.


This early stage of painting is most exciting and stimulating. Working thinly and monochromatically removes any hesitancy of rubbing things out or moving elements around if need be.

Monochromatic block-in is compete.

Monochromatic block-in is compete.


Early in my career I did a few paintings using this monochromatic under painting technique, but eventually cast it aside in favor of a more direct method of painting…mixing the correct color and value at the same time. A few years ago, Warren Chang wrote a wonderful eight-part series for International Artist magazine titled, “Pursuing an artist’s life behind the easel”. In the series he demonstrated his use of this technique as a precursor to the application of color. I guess I had arrived at a point in my career that I was ready for a change…and also had come to realize the great importance of achieving an organized, clear value structure for each painting.

Color is applied to the monochromatic under painting while matching underlying value.

Color is applied to the monochromatic under painting while matching underlying value.


I’m often asked just how often I employ this technique. On most studio paintings this is the way I work, particularly if the painting is very complex. Periodically, the raw umber block-in technique is used for plein air work. One thing for certain, I believe it has strengthened my paintings. Also, it’s a useful tool in manipulating the compositional design because the values can be adjusted so easily with no concern for color. As I tell my students, value establishes the mood. If the values are correctly set, the mood will be obvious.

Applying color from the focal point outward, that painting begins taking shape.

Applying color from the focal point outward, the painting begins taking shape.

It's always a good idea to check the values of the completed painting just to make sure it reads well. This is the final painting with the color removed.

It’s always a good idea to check the values of the completed painting just to make sure it reads well. This is the painting with the color removed.


Once these values are set, I try to adhere closely to them as I begin to apply color. The palette selected for this painting: titanium white, cobalt blue, cadmium red, cadmium yellow medium, lemon yellow, and raw umber. Colors of most important consideration were the reds, oranges, and greens. By choosing a warm red and two yellows, it allowed for a nice variety of warm hues. Cobalt blue, which I consider a neutral blue, mixed with the yellows, oranges and red, provide a beautiful variation of greens.


John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE




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