Page 1

oil painting demonstration


Measurement and Mood in Landscape Painting

Tennessee artist Roger Dale Brown uses objective measurements of relative value, color temperature, and composition when painting the landscape, yet the most distinctive aspect of his work may be the subjective, deeply emotional content. How does he instill a sultry mood into carefully organized paintings?


can be temperamental and moody, so my approach to painting is often a reflection of my emotional state,” Roger Dale Brown says. Trying to understand exactly how he adjusts his materials and techniques in response to his moods takes further investigation. The only immediate clues are offered while watching Brown transition from the early stages


June-July 2012 /

of one of his plein air paintings to the later procedures, when he loses himself in the act of manipulating brush marks. “The truth is revealed by telling lies,” Brown says softly while working on an oil painting. “To really get the feel of what is in front of you, you have to reach the point at which you stop offering a literal representation

and start telling a story based on the feelings expressed by the light, atmosphere, textures, reflections, color relationships — whatever it is Aquamarine 2011, oil, 14 x 18 in. Private collection Plein air

Courtyard at the Mission (San Juan Capistrano, CA) 2011, oil, 12 x 16 in. Courtesy Leipers Creek Gallery, Leipers Fork, TN Plein air

Roger Dale Brown painting in a private garden in Georgia

that grabs your attention. Like any good story, a painting starts with a subject and gradually ends up being about the storyteller.” Brown quickly adds that good stories don’t confuse readers with extraneous details, so paintings need to be simplified to the point at which only the important elements are emphasized. He says, “There are only a handful of artists I know who consistently demonstrate they can narrow their focus down to the fundamental centrality of a painting — that is, a composition that is simple in its abstract structure and engaging in its complexity.” For Brown, that complexity is instilled in a painting when he manipulates the oil colors by / June-July 2012


oil painting demonstration

Last Vestige 2012, oil, 20 x 40 in. Courtesy M Gallery, Charleston, SC Studio

overlapping brush marks, changing the length and direction of those marks, applying color with a palette knife, and integrating a number of colors so the physical appearance of the paint becomes just as important as its ability to create the illusion of a tree, barn, stream, or cloud.

That is, the paint tells a story about the scene and about the hand of the artist. To help others tell their stories, Brown introduces a wide range of relevant ideas, then has students paint along with him. He quickly points out that his intention in having students paint with him during the first demonstration is to convey information effectively, not to have people mimic his style of painting. “Painting is both an intellectual and a physical process,” he says, “and I try to stimulate students’ thinking by giving them a booklet in Beach House 2011, oil, 14 x 18 in. Private collection Plein air

ARTIST DATA NAME: Roger Dale Brown BIRTHDATE: 1963 LOCATION: Nashville, TN INFLUENCES: Louis Priscilla, Robert Ward Johnson, Jesus Christ, John Carlson, Edgar Payne, James McNeill Whistler WEBSITE:


June-July 2012 /

Demonstration: Late Afternoon

STEP 1: Roger Dale Brown begins his demonstration by drawing contour lines of large abstract shapes with thin oil paint. This establishes the placement and design of large simple masses of the scene. The key points of interest are indicated with vertical demarcation lines.

STEP 2: Brown quickly blocks in the big shapes in the landscape with a general color and value using relatively thin mixtures of oil colors.

STEP 3: Continuing to work in a general way without concern for specific details, Brown adds the backlit patterns of light around the edges of the trees.

STEP 6: Using patterns of broken brush work, Brown enriches the painting surface and creates a greater sense of atmosphere and light in his painting.

STEP 4: Now the artist adds strokes of middlevalue greens between the shadow and light masses of the trees.

STEP 5: Brown works on edges throughout the painting but gives close attention to them at this stage, blending the oil colors on the panel by moving a bristle brush and palette knife in the direction in which the natural forms grow, and according to the movement of the shapes and the way the sunlight reveals them.

The completed painting: Late Afternoon 2012, oil, 12 x 16 in. Collection the artist / June-July 2012


The Cathedral Ruins (San Juan Capistrano, CA) 2011, oil, 16 x 12 in. Private collection Plein air

to mix the same colors and values I’ve used and build up the surface in the same way I did. Even if I am teaching a plein air painting workshop, I first have the students work with me indoors so they grasp the fundamentals and all begin on a level playing field. I have them develop the same painting that I work on because that will help them see and feel the procedures more than if I just talked to them from the front of the studio. I take them through each stage of drawing the outline of the masses on a toned panel, squinting to determine the general color and value of the masses, determining whether the shadows or lights will dominate, shaping and defining the elements, and fine-tuning the picture.” During this demonstration process, Brown talks about some of the key aspects of painting, such as starting with a limited number of colors and values (usually four of each) and thinking about the five types of light: light patterns, shadow patterns, half tones, reflective light, and accents. “I love creating form in a painting, and the five types of light are essential elements in that process,” he explains. “I establish three types of light in the first 10 minutes of my demonstration painting while taking students through the very first step — light patterns, shadow patterns, and mid-tones.” As Brown tells his students, “From the minute I put paint on the canvas, I think about the edges in a painting. Edges help an artist key the colors and value system, and they are essential in creating the mood of a scene. I work on blending between the masses, picking the which I offer quotations and lists of suggestions, brief biographies of historic painters whose work might inspire them, and thoughts about handling the important issues of color, value masses, and other key aspects of painting.” Brown goes on, “In talking about the physical act of painting, I find it effective to have them paint exactly the same steps of my demonstration painting. In my experience, people are more apt to learn paint handling if they have The Pilgrim (Dana Point, CA) 2011, oil, 14 x 18 in. Private collection Plein air


June-July 2012 /

Harpeth River Spring 2012, oil, 48 x 60 in. Private collection Studio

Pastels of Winter 2012, oil, 24 x 36 in. Troika Gallery, Easton, MD Studio

sharpest edge in the scene and adding reflective lights that bring attention to the focal point, comparing those with all the others, and softening the transitions that go back in space. Those relationships create an organic quality to the finished painting.” Then, says Brown, “When students go outside to paint, they seem better able to use the principles they’ve just practiced in the studio, and

they are eager to create paintings that are uniquely their own. I encourage them to adjust and adapt what they’ve learned rather than repeat the same process. For example, if they paint one landscape dominated by bright patterns of sunlight, the next might be balanced in favor of the shadows. “I’ve heard many professional artists say, ‘Get it right the first time.’ But my response is, ‘Why avoid taking chances in order to be right?’ I would rather push a painting as far as I can and try new things. The only way artists advance in the process is by learning foundational skills and risking failure. Oil paint is intended to be scraped, moved, blended, manipulated, and corrected. That’s the nature of the medium.” M. Stephen Doherty is Editor of PleinAir magazine.

See more paintings by Roger Dale Brown in the expanded digital edition of PleinAir. / June-July 2012


Expanded Digital Edition Content

oil painting demonstration

Apples and Silver 2012, oil, 14 x 18 in. Collection the artist Studio

Flow Blue and Apples 2012, oil, 14 x 18 in. Courtesy Haynes Galleries, Thomaston, ME Studio June-July 2012 /

San Juan Capistrano 2012, oil, 12 x 16 in. Plein air

Through the Veil 2012, oil, 24 x 36 in. Leipers Creek Gallery, Leipers Fork, TN Studio / June-July 2012

Measurement and Mood in Landscape Painting  

Featuring the work of Roger Dale Brown

Measurement and Mood in Landscape Painting  

Featuring the work of Roger Dale Brown