Nearly a year ago, two wonderful friends of mine got married and I promised them a painting. They love the North Cascades and I’ve been keeping my eyes open for material. A few weeks ago while leaving the Methow Valley and driving across the beautiful North Cascades Highway, I took a few photos of Pyramid Peak above Diablo Lake. One became inspiration for the following painting. To begin, I tweaked my reference photo with Photoshop, cropping it and converting the image to black and white. If I do work with reference photos, I prefer black and white images so I’m not influenced by the colors of my Canon printer. Next I experimented with value studies to explore the composition.

Pyramid Peak
Thumbnail Sketch 1
Thumbnail Sketch 2

Then I began exploring color with a couple of 5″ x 7″ sketches:s090623_pyramidstudy

At this point, I was excited about the composition, but unsatisfied with the flat, block of evergreen trees in the foreground and made a mental note to add more depth the large painting. Ready to begin, I taped down my 140 lb Arches paper and lightly sketched out my composition. An artist friend and mentor of mine, Tom Hoffmann, reminds me to think of three major layers for paintings: 1) The big shapes, 2) texture, and 3) Darks. I began by washing in the sky with a mix of Daniel Smith Cerulean, Cobalt, and Cobalt Teal Blue. For the shadows, I mixed Indathrone with Deep Scarlet (a favorite of mine) and “palette grey” (what ever happens to be available). Once the paper dried, I added a warm mix of New Gamboge Yellow and Quinacridone Gold for the rocks’ underpainting. I worked wet on wet around the clouds and blotted them with a paper towel for a misty effect.


The painting developed as I added texture to the rocks using a mix of Indathrone Blue, Lunar Earth (which granulates beautifully), and Deep Scarlet.


Next I continued to add texture as well as my shadows. The trees were painted wet on wet with a mix of Daniel Smith’s lovely Perylene Green, Indathrone Blue, Deep Scarlet (you may notice a theme here) with a few warm yellows thrown in from time to time.

Pyramid Peak, 18.5" x 13" watercolor

The question, “When is a painting done?” is hard to answer. For me, it’s when I begin making fussy little marks and changes that may barely perceivable but risk disrupting layers of paint. At that point, it’s best for me to stop, sit back, and enjoy my work! Soon this painted will be framed and delivered so my friends may finally enjoy their overdue wedding present as well.