Building a Hyperrealist Painting: "Mission Hills Palms"

In this article you can see the steps I took in creating a painting, from drawing on the canvas to the final brush stroke. This was my first color oil painting, after doing a couple of practice oils in monochrome. I painted abstracts for about 15 years off and on, then got into photography for about 7 years. When I saw the effects that people could achieve with oil paints, for example to represent clouds, I knew I had to try it.

In addition to shooting clouds in infrared, I love plants, the three-dimension structure of buildings and how light plays on them, how they create shadows and a feeling, and a certain kind of Southern California scene, with a certain quality of light, as some of the photorealists (e.g., Robert Bechtle) worked with. Though challenging, it was worth it to me to go to the effort of making such a painting.

The stages in these photos represent the work of one day's painting session in the studio generally, and not necessarily an exact stage per se. In other words, the stages are arbitrary, except that of course they occur in a necessary sequence often, such as doing a drawing first, or an underlayer before an over layer, etc. I was taught to work from dark to light, but I don't always follow that, depending on the circumstances. All rules are for breaking.

The most difficult parts of this painting were the clouds and the palm trees. The clouds were difficult because it's best to do them wet-on-wet, especially for the wispy cirrus clouds. So if you don't get it right the first time, and it dries, you need to do a bit more work, plus color matching, getting edges right, etc.

The original photos that inspired this painting were ones I took on a walk in the Mission Hills area of San Diego. I also got a shot of some interesting clouds in Presidio Park that were incorporated:

(Note: the colors can vary from shot to shot because of lighting and white balance issues with the camera.)


Original Photo

Here's the main photo I worked from.
I took this on a walk in Mission Hills.

Resource Photo: Clouds

Here's another resource photo. I liked these clouds, and thought they would work better in the composition, and create a more dramatic feel. This was from a hike in Presidio Park.

stage 1

Stage 1
Drawing on canvas. I used a stick of charcoal. I used a ruler sometimes to get proportional distances right.

stage 2

Stage 2
Beginning of sky. A blue underlayer and first attempts at clouds, wet on wet.

stage 3

Stage 3
Blocking out areas of color in the buildings. The first layer.
trying to get the sky more the way I wanted it.

stage 4

Stage 4
Another layer of color on the buildings, first stage on the windows, the front wall and shadow, gate (it's all just shades and colors, though i am giving them a name here).
More work on trying to get the sky happier.

stage 5

Stage 5
Add the grassy plants in front, work on the windows.

stage 6

Stage 6
Start painting the palms and their shadows. I had to re-draw the outlines of the palms on top of the clouds/sky. Seeing the palms come to life was fun and exciting.

stage 7

Stage 7
More work on the King Palms. I bought a special German-made stiff-bristled small flat brush to help create the leaves. This area is very complex and required utmost concentration and effort, especially in the shadows and towards the center. Phew! I was working in a public studio, and really had to focus.

stage 8

Stage 8
More work on the palms. At some point I discovered there were actually three palms in the photo: one hidden behind the left palm! No wonder it looked extra lush and complex!
Also worked on the clouds making them softer.

stage 9

Stage 9
Added the telephone pole and the distant palm in the lower right.

stage 10

Stage 10
Added another light under eaves, softened areas of clouds.

stage 11

Stage 11
Added details to the telephone pole, refinements in the light and shadows under the eaves in the high building, and changes some values on the edges in the palm-leaf shadows on the building so they behaved nicely visually.

stage 12

Stage 12
Added more grass, refined distant palm.
Done! That was hard, but fun!






© Eric Platt 2007