Tumultuous: A study of blue and gold

Tumultuous: Large Canvas Cover

I have updated this page many times over - at this point in my life I think it best to cut out the fluffy backstory and get to the purpose of this page: provide advice on covering large canvases and how to set up a piece early on to carry through quickly.

Most of the time it can be difficult for any normal person (myself included) to start a painting that has an open-ended or unclear subject. Since I was given freedom as to what to do with this commission, I found it difficult to know where to start. What I did have to work off of were a few hand-painted color swatches to choose from and after a few weeks they directed their interest towards a blue, black and grey card with words scribbled:  

"Add gold flecks."

I love that term, "gold flecks." I think all of my paintings in some kind of way try to have "gold flecks." Not literally, of course. The phrase is somewhat metaphorical to that 1% contained in the last bit a painting that can bring the rest of the 99% to the point; all artists have a certain stopping place on a piece where they are comfortable with walking away. I knew to complete this commission the last thing I'd add the requested gold flecks.

So - I wanted to make a page that documents how a big painting (5' x 4') like this starts and grows. My original intention was to create something that would intrigue the clients, every time they looked at it they'd see something different. A dark blue, gold, and greyscale color palette gravitated me towards: space, storm, high-contrast scenes. I apologize about the lack of photo quality on this page (some are fairly dark), my camera at the time wasn't that great.


It took me around 80 hours total to finish on a 5' x 4' x 1.5" canvas:


Gold flecks and strands stretch across an alien storm. I sprinkled pockets of light that danced and swirled along a tilted, cutting horizon. In some ways it shows an asymmetric alien world, filled with deep, churning vortexes and star-like spheres pierced by an abstract gold-railway that cuts through the foreground.

Phase 0: Null/Start

Here are two things I use to work efficiently: 1: Work in a space where you can be messy. Focus solely on the work, otherwise it will always limit you. 2: have a space you can leave all of your art supplies out. You need a nice, open space to focus and settle into a flow state.

P1: Setup for Momentum

It isn't always the case with paintings when you know exactly what you want to do. Establish a habit of working with smaller paintings in a sketch pad to warm up. I have found that if I think through the colors and composition before ever touching the canvas, I work much more efficiently. Take your time, but emphasize efficiency over busying yourself to make it seem like you're working. Establishing composition takes time and study, a small sketch pad habit will help in world building.

P2: Cover with purpose

Paint predictively and patiently.

Step 4: Contrast and Shape

This in, in my opinion, a terribly dark photo. At this point it is actually much more blue and less black. Blurry structures have formed and it's now time to start deciding between "hard" and "soft" edges (i.e. the ones that are defined vs. difficult to make out). A very valuable thing I learned in community college art class was: throw away any fear of making mistakes, always be willing to paint over and start again. Use this in everything you paint.

Step 5: Gold and Details

Again - another dark photo from a time before I had a great camera. With full coverage, you can begin to reinforce the balance of the piece and add contrast/highlights/shading. For soft edging a nice wide throw-away filbert can be used to blur spots that have too much detail. Work back and forth between overly-populated soft edges and too many detailed hard edges until you find a nice balance between the two (remember to always take a step back after working for a while). Blur by packing the wide filbert with a small amount of paint, wipe most of it off, and lightly moving over a targeted area repeatedly. 

Don't be afraid to paint thick if the piece calls for it. I wanted plenty of strong golds added. For me - the gold flecks came after around 75 hours. These were the heralds for a nearly-finished piece, and I used them as such.

Step 6: Completion

I was very happy with how it turned out, as were my commissioners! I hope my advice and pictures were in any way helpful. Creating a large painting can be a little slow to start, but they are without a doubt the most rewarding when finished. 

If you have any questions about my creative process on any other pieces - please don't hesitate to contact me at:


Thanks for reading!

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