Creating “Uncertainty”

Posted on

Do you like uncertainty? I suppose some people thrive on it, but I suspect most do not. I’m with the majority on this one. Everyday we are presented with some degree of uncertainty; our recent extended power outage in Texas, during one of the most brutally cold winter’s on record, created that in abundance.

Weather is just one of many causes of anxiety and uncertainty in our lives… and it’s weather that inspired the concept behind this painting I want to share with you.

The following story explains how “Uncertainty” was created. (Click images to enlarge)

Reference Photo – Barns are very appealing subjects; put them in a New England setting and they are even more so. I have many 4 x 6 inch photos of this area, of these, two were combined in order to create a broader perspective.


People are typically surprised when I reveal how my paintings are created. I can’t really explain why, but when studying a photo such as the one here,  other interpretations of the subject enter my mind. I think it’s probably recalling past experiences combined with a lot of outdoor painting and intense observation that helps me look beyond the photo and imagine what it could be. Additionally, I do enjoy exploring all the varying moods of nature, and this subject lent itself to such exploration.

John Carlson, in his incredible book “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting”, explains one’s ability to interpret as an instinct. Here’s what he says: “When an artist singles out the subject he is going to paint, he does so by virtue of an instinct of knowledge he possesses as to that subject’s pliability to his artistic needs. In other words, he brings an idea to the motif before him, or you might say, the motif gives him an idea of what his idea is. If you approach nature without some idea, she is merciless in the way in which she piles lumber in your way.”

This whole idea of interpretation hearkens back to what I’ve written about numerous times in this blog, and have also taught in my workshops for many years…Concept Determines Everything. Think about it. Concept determines the composition, drawing, value structure, variety of edges, color, technique, and yes, even framing.


When faced with any subject, the artist needs to decide what to do with it. What about the subject is important and how can it best be presented?



Preliminary Sketches – Based on the proportions of the canvas I’ve selected for the final painting, these two thumbnail sketches were created…each 2 x 2.5 inches; the first represents a sunny clear day; the second, an impending storm. A color study for each was created before making a final choice.

Palette – The palette choice of Ivory Black, Terra Rosa , Cadmium Yellow Pale, plus White was used for both color studies that follow. The choice of Ivory Black and Terra Rosa was made based on what two primaries would get closest to the barn color. Ivory Black, viewed as a less saturated blue, worked well with Terra Rosa in accomplishing that. Cadmium Yellow Pale, the third primary, worked well with the other two in achieving the desired greens.

A color swatch was made to ensure the correct palette was selected. My guess proved to be correct, but a color swatch is a great way to make sure before going forward.

Color Study 1 – 4.5″ x 7.5″ – Oil on gessoed paper – Ivory Black tone. After the composition was determined using the photo reference, a grid was used to accurately transfer the image.

Color Study 1 – Application of color begins.

Color Study 1 – Completion.

Color Study 2 – 4.5″ x 7.5″ – Oil on gessoed paper. The same process as used in the first color study was used here.

Color Study 2 – Beginning the color application. Value and color have been adjusted to correspond with the mood created by an impending storm.

Masking tape was used to frame the 4.5″ x 7.5″ study while painting. The overall paper size is 5.5 x 8.5 inches. Upon completion, the studies are filed in notebooks.

Color study 2 – Completion.


These are two interpretations of the photo. I chose the second study for enlargement. I think both are worthy subjects for further discovery, but I preferred the more dramatic mood of the second one at this time. Palette for both studies and the final painting is the same: Titanium White, Ivory Black, Terra Rosa, Cadmium Yellow Pale.

Final Painting – Exactly the same procedure used for the two studies was used here.

Final Painting – An un-stretched canvas was taped to a hard board. A grid system was used for transfer and careful attention was given to the drawing. Charcoal was used so that any errors could easily be removed and corrected.

The taboret in front of my easel is covered with a 1/4 inch sheet of glass. That’s the mixing area. Off to the side is a gray scale, but I’ve also taped the color study being used to create this larger painting. If you look closely, there is a clear piece of acrylic laid over the study. It’s on the acrylic sheet that I test mixtures before applying them to the canvas.

Final Painting – The first round of color application has been completed.

Completed Painting – “Uncertainty” – 9.68″ x 16.25″ – Oil on canvas

***If you would like to receive this weekly blog automatically, please complete the simple form on the bottom right of this page. To receive my monthly newsletter complete the form on the top right. Thank You.


I’m pleased to offer both of my instructional videos and book as a complete set for the first time. They may also be purchased individually. All are best sellers and include everything I’ve taught in my workshops. You can now take my oil painting workshop right in the comfort of your home, and for a lot less money than physically being present. (Click image to learn more)

For those that have purchased the book, I invite you to join our new Facebook Group – “Limited Palette Unlimited Color”. If you qualify, I hope you’ll join us. Check us out on Facebook. HERE is the link.


Want to take your painting to the next level? I can help. Click HERE to learn about my critique/mentoring programs.


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



Please Note - You must be logged into a Facebook account in order to write comments. We highly recommend using Google Chrome, Fire Fox, or Internet Explorer since some individuals have not been able to leave comments on the Safari browser. If you have any issues, please email me.