What’s the Best Order to Paint the Subject?

I’m often asked about the order I paint the subject. Do I paint the sky first or last? When do I paint the background? What about the focal point?

These days, I don’t follow any particular order or process. I used to rack my brain trying to find the “perfect” order, but I have come to realize there isn’t one. Every painting is unique and needs to be treated as such. Sometimes I’ll paint the sky first, sometimes the focal point, sometimes the background. It depends on the subject, style, materials, and how I’m feeling that day.

So, I cannot provide you with a cookie-cutter solution. But I can provide some general tips regarding what order to paint the subject:

– What’s the easiest approach? Go with that unless you have a reason not to. If you think it’s easier to start with the focal point and leave the background until last, then do that. If you think it’s easier to start with the most distant areas and work your way forward, then do that. You don’t get any awards for making it hard on yourself.

– Are there any overlapping areas? For example, spots of blue sky showing through the tree canopy. These are tricky areas that require more attention. Often you will need to go back and forward between the two areas until it looks right. My Tree, Dappled Light painting is a great example. I had to go back and forth between the sky and the trees several times.

– Are there any other areas in the painting that have similar colors? For example, if you are painting the sea, consider using similar strokes of blue for the sky. This is an efficient way to paint. It also promotes harmony throughout your painting.

– Can you move from one part to adjacent parts? This works if the adjacent parts are similar, like in my Sierra Nevada painting. Not so much if there’s a sharp change in color or style.

– Your painting style may influence the order you paint the subject. Impressionism tends to be more flexible. It doesn’t matter so much about where you start and what order you paint things. You could even attack the whole canvas at the same time if you prefer, with strokes of broken color eventually meeting to depict the subject. Realism, on the other hand, favors a more careful or planned approach.

– Plan before you start painting. What part will you paint first? What part will you paint last? What challenges will you face in terms of order? If it’s a serious painting, consider also doing a small study in preparation. The more planning you do, the smoother the painting process.

Hope this gives you just a bit more clarity for your next painting.

Kind regards

Dan Scott