The creative process: “Be Still My Soul”

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When Katharina A. von Schlegal so succinctly penned the words to the hymn, “Be Still My Soul”, more than 260 years ago, I wonder if she had any idea the impact those words would have on people, even to this day. I’m sure not.

We live among constant noise, it is everywhere, surrounding and enveloping us. It penetrates deep into our very souls and holds us captive, and if for a second we are released from its grasp, we quickly find ways to return to our captor because that’s where we are most comfortable. We’ve come to love the noise more than the quiet. However, in that place of quiet and stillness, that’s where the big questions about God, creation, and our purpose and place in the world are more easily contemplated. That’s the place I most like to be.

One of the wonderful things about being an artist, particularly a painter of landscapes, is that we have a strong connection with nature…the exquisite wildness and beauty of this planet on which God has placed us. When coming to know and trust in the God of the Bible, the first line of Katharina von Schlegal’s hymn begins to make perfect sense…”Be still my soul; the Lord is on thy side.” When our soul confidently rests in that truth, it becomes still and at peace. For me, it’s in the open country, away from all the noise, that I find that truth most strongly reinforced.

The mood of this painting, as it evolved, put me in the open country and gave me a feeling of stillness and calm. The process of painting it certainly didn’t give me those feelings, usually it’s just the opposite, but the mood of the painting did. The title came naturally out of those feelings.

Selecting a painting title can be quite difficult at times, particularly if you want it to be meaningful. I use titles to verbalize something of what I want communicated about the painting. It adds to the painting’s narrative. I do not like thoughtless titles. Usually a word or phrase will come to me after a painting is completed, while it is being studied for possible refinements. Sometimes, as in this case, a title comes during the painting process. Never have I started with a title and created a painting to fit.

Here are some of the steps taken in creating “Be Still My Soul.”

Reference photo

Reference photo


I can understand if you’re wondering why in the world this reference photo was selected, and secondly, how and why I interpreted it the way I did….all reasonable questions but difficult to answer. Here are some reasoned responses: 1) I like vistas and the veils of atmosphere they reveal. 2) The photo clearly shows a foreground, middle ground, and background. 3) Light is soft and gray. 4) Basic design of the subject is good and yet provides enough information to aid in simplifying the design even more. 5) The light colored field in the middle ground is used as an accent, to add contrast to a basically gray scene, and to highlight the focal point.

"Color Study #1" - 4.5" x 6" - Oil

“Color Study #1″ – 4.5″ x 6” – Oil


Small color studies were developed to establish composition, mood, value, and possible palette choice. The palette choice is the same for both studies, however, surface #1 was toned with a mixture of Cobalt Blue and Burnt Sienna, while study #2 surface was toned with Yellow Ochre…hence the warm and cool version of each.

"Color Study #2" - 4.5" x 6" - Oil

“Color Study #2″ – 4.5″ x 6” – Oil


A very simple palette of colors was chosen. I’ve worked with color for so long that I pretty much know what is needed without trying out a lot of possibilities beforehand. You’ll notice in the selected palette below that I substituted Light Red for Burnt Sienna. I recently discovered this color while viewing the “Portrait Painting With Cesar Santos” DVD. It proved to be a good choice for this painting.

Palette selection: Cobalt Blue, Burnt Siena, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, Titanium White.

Palette selection: Cobalt Blue, Light Red, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, Titanium White.

"Be Still My Soul" - 30" x 40" - Oil

“Be Still My Soul” – 30″ x 40″ – Oil



Beginning with this blog post, I will be offering to you, my newsletter subscribers, blog, and Facebook followers, something special…and up until now…unseen color studies that I’ve done over the years in preparation for a larger piece, or as stand alone works of art. These color studies are done on 100 lb archival paper that has received one coat of gesso; paper size is 5.5″ x 8.5″ and contains my notes: date painted, location, palette used, etc. Each study is offered in three configurations: 1) Image with notes (unmounted); 2) Image with notes (mounted on board); 3) Image only (mounted on board). This week’s offering is a study for “Land of the Britons”. If interested in owning one of my works, here’s a very affordable opportunity. For now, these offers are only for those in the United States; I will pay all shipping and applicable sales tax. Click on image to enlarge. Let me know of your interest. Thanks.



I am very pleased to announce the release of my first instructional DVD, Limited Palette Landscapes, professionally produced by Liliedahl Art Videos. The video contains over 15 hours of instruction and follows my painting process from selection of the canvas to the final brush stoke. For a detailed description of the video contents, including a short video…and order instructions…please click HERE. Thank you in advance for adding this DVD to your video library. Upon viewing, if you would kindly share your comments with me, I would greatly appreciate it. THANK YOU.



Next week’s blog: “Linda Crank interview”



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



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