Since I was not allowed to photograph Ovanes Berberian’s demos, a few artists have asked me to show them the process using one of my own paintings. So here goes!

REFERENCE. (ON LOCATION) First, here’s the reference photo. I have to get a body of work that represents the San Francisco Peninsula for the Peninsula Plein Air Invitational at Filoli, so yesterday I spent the day on location. It’s a plein air event. It was a great, sunny day, although a bit windy. This reference photo shows what I had to work with. For those of you that live in the Bay Area, this is a little canyon Ron Schlorff and I stumbled upon between La Canada college and La Canada Road. It’s a nice spot. This photograph isn’t great, but basically there was a nice collection of greens and warm land colors to capture. The foreground bushes are a blue-green, contrasted with the warm gold-greens of the mid-ground trees, and the far background trees would be pushed back further with a blue, gray color with close intervals between shade and light colors.

DRAWING. I began by sketching in the outline and movement of the big shapes, using a combination of Sap Green and Alizarin Crimson. At this stage, Ovanes stresses the balance between shapes. All great paintings start out as great abstracts. If the painting isn’t interesting in this form, it won’t be painted, no matter what you do. I liked this abstract design (basing on what was before me, but altering as necessary), so I continued.

TONE. Here’s the wash stage. Ovanes would fill the canvas with bright washes, running one into the other. His would be even more loose than this. He does not pay attention to local color, but does vary warm and cool notes. The idea is to leave the wash showing in spots to create vibrations with the thicker paint on top. I could have kept the sky blues cleaner, and in the end that prevented me from getting the sky as luminous as I wanted. When I got back to my studio, I had to pull out the Manganese Blue, a VERY powerful blue that really illuminates.

DARKS. Next I layed in the darks. Ovanes’ variation between warm and cool darks is much more articulated in this stage than I’ve achieved here. He blends a lot, but keeps the colors clear in spots. He looks for opportunities for lost/found edges where shapes of the same value meet. When I say his darks are “articulated”, it means in spots there is great, pure color, yet surrounded by subtle grays.

PALETTE. Here’s a view of my palette, towards the beginning of the painting. I use an 18×24 hardened acrylic palette painted a mid-tone gray beneath. If this size is a bit small, so I’m building a larger one for my studio. The idea here is to use LOTS of paint (“Paint like a millionaire!”), and create interesting strings of colors, beautiful grays. Don’t mix more than two different colors adjacent to each other. I’ll have to take a picture of my pallete on other paintings, or further along, because it gets much more interesting than this. Hope this gives you the idea.

MIDTONES to LIGHTS to ACCENTS (DARKS). Work in mid-tones as long as you can, where the colors are generally at their peak strength. Then work to highlights (lights) and accents (darkest darks) to finish and bring the painting together. When I got the painting back into my studio, I worked the sky on the right a bit more, and I added some “sky holes” to the mid-ground trees, to make them “breath”, and to add some needed ground color to that side. This is the painting I ended up with, “Peninsula Hillside“, 16×20, Oil on Linen. It will be submitted to the upcoming plein air exhibition at Filoli in August.

Update: To get on the email list to attend a Ovanes Berberian workshop, contact Ray Morrison:






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