Creation of a painting: Motivation thru completion

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I’ll never forget the experience. It happened many years ago while spending several days painting in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas. There I was alone in the Tallgrass Prairie, a wilderness for sure, no signs of humanity for days, only faint mumbling coming from my lips as I tried to create a decent painting. There was not even a breeze….nothing. Suddenly the ground shook, my knees started to buckle, and the paint brush in my hand fell to the ground when two thunderous bursts came from the sky. Was this God calling? It was then that I saw them for a brief second…two military jets just a few hundred feet off the ground. It was spectacular. I stood there in awe, shaking, unable to bend down to pick up the brush.



What is it that motivates us painters to choose the subjects we do? There’s probably not a simple answer and there will be differing opinions. For me it’s all about life experiences. I remember those days as a child visiting my grandparents in a small SE Kansas town with its brick streets and sidewalks. I remember walking down the street with my brother and sister to the small corner market; playing on the railroad tracks; visiting our relative’s farm, and milking cows, and chasing chickens, and shooting BB guns. I remember the paper routes and getting up early before school to throw papers…and selling magazines subscriptions and homemade cookies door-to-door. Yes, its all those things and more…those deep seated things…that motivate me to paint the things I do.

As artists, you know we can’t run on emotion alone, it also takes skill, ability, and a lot of hard work to successfully bring those feelings to life on canvas.



Over the years I have found methods of creating that work for me. These generally always involve some degree of preliminary work…preparation. When working in the studio, every painting begins with some type of reference material, either a field study, a photograph, or a combination of the two.

Reference photo

This scene had sufficient emotional appeal that it became the inspiration for a painting. What form the painting would ultimately take had yet to be resolved.

I have created a number of color wheels, all limited to three primaries of various combinations. This one is made up of Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Lemon Yellow.

I have created a number of color wheels like this, all limited to three primaries of various combinations. This one is made up of Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Lemon Yellow. After contemplating the subject, this was the palette of colors selected.

Contemplating possible directions to take the painting, an equilaterial triad of Yellow-Orange, Blue-Green, and Red-Violet was selected.

Contemplating possible directions to take the painting, an equilaterial triad of Yellow-Orange, Blue-Green, Red-Violet was selected.

Equilaterial triad

I do like to experiment with a variety of color combinations. This one is made up of all tertiary colors. The top row shows the pure mixtures using Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, and Lemon Yellow as primaries. Colors below each of these contain various amounts of  Titanium White.

Testing possible mixtures

Will the palette of colors selected provide the mixtures needed? This is how I test it.

Color study -4.5" x 6" - Oil on paper

Color study -4.5″ x 6″ – Oil on paper. This is the final step of the Preparation Stage. Sometimes the study doesn’t work out. When that happens it’s time to do another color study. If that doesn’t work out, it might be time to reevaluate the palette selection. By the way, it’s important that the study is identical in proportion to the canvas selected for the painting.


The preliminary work is done. The concept, composition, drawing, values, and color have pretty much been resolved. In the Execution Stage, I don’t want to be a slave to the color study but allow flexibility, especially if I think it will improve the final result.



A 12″x 16″ panel has been selected, a size proportional to the color study. I generally begin monochromatically when laying out a painting. Major emphasis is placed on establishing accurate values (light and dark patterns) rather than on color. However, color is very important but value even more so. It is value that establishes the mood of a painting. Color only enhances it.

Monochromatic block-in using  raw umber (no white) - 12" x 16" - Oil on masonite panel

This is the monochromatic block-in using raw umber (no white) – oil on Ampersand Gessobord. Light areas are lifted out with a paper towel and mineral spirits. A lot is happening at this very important stage…basically everything but application of color.

Color block-in over monochromatic

Color, matching the value of the monochromatic block-in, has been applied. This is the first pass and the step where overall color is established.  From this point each area is refined beginning with the sky and background.

Completed painting. "Take a Left at the Curve" - 12" x 16" - Oil

Completed painting.




Well, that isn’t the end of it. The painting still needs to be presentable. A frame is much like the landscaping around your house. It’s important and makes your property much more appealing. It is the same with your painting. Personally, I invest in very nice, high quality frames, but not everyone can justify such an investment. In such cases, buy the best, most suitable frame for the painting that you can afford. Sure it’s possible to sell paintings without frames, and I’ve sold a lot of them unframed, but you have to admit a frame on this painting truly enhances the final result.

Frame selection is like the landscaping around your property. It can enhance or detract. This frame really brings out the color in the painting, but does not overwhelm.

“Take a Left at the Curve” – 12″ x 16″ – Oil. The frame is simple, yet very elegant. An appropriate frame should not only enhance the colors of the painting  but also work well with the subject. I think this does both.


Before the painting is made available for sale however, it’s good to create a title for the work. A title not only documents the painting but also gives the viewer a clue to the artist’s intention. Don’t just randomly name it. Give it serious consideration. An unconsidered title would be something like, “Field with Tree”. The title chosen for this piece is slightly humorous, I mean, if you want to stay on the road, you must turn left.

Finally, and a very important step indeed, is to set the price. When you think about it, the marketplace really determines the value of your work. When I began the fine art career, prices had to be adjusted several times downward until virtually everything painted sold. Once value was established, the price per square inch was determined. I know it sounds cold, much like purchasing a piece of fabric, but it has worked very well for more than 30 years. Collectors like it because it is predictable, eliminates dishonesty, and is logical…smaller paintings cost less, larger ones more…and it’s easy to determine new prices as popularity for your work increases.

NOW, if all that appeals to you….

For those that sign up to receive my monthly newsletter, you will qualify to purchase this framed painting at a Special of the Month price…$2950. This price will include free shipping and state sales tax where applicable…for US residents. Let me know if you’re interested. This offer is only good through January 2016. Check HERE to see if painting is still available, if so…




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




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