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Monday, 01 October 2012 18:18

Getting Rich Textures on Location

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Todd A. Williams painting “Ancient Etruscan Springs” in Bango Vignoni, Italy Todd A. Williams painting “Ancient Etruscan Springs” in Bango Vignoni, Italy

On the trip to Italy during which Todd A. Williams created the painting that just won the First Prize in the PleinAir Magazine Salon competition, he applied thick strokes of oil colors to panels he prepared by swirling and dabbing acrylic gesso. “Textures give my paintings more vitality, energy, and individuality,” he explains.

“Ancient Etruscan Springs,” by Todd A. Williams, oil, 9 x 12 in.

In preparation for the whirlwind painting trip Todd A. Williams made to Italy in 2011, he coated a number of panels with long strokes of a acrylic gesso, blotted the thick white paint with paper towels, and added more texture with a palette knife. “I prefer to paint on a surface that has a distinct texture because it allows me to establish a more gestured, brushed look than if I were painting on a smooth surface,” the Arkansas artist says. “I read about that technique in one of Richard Schmid’s books and it has proven to be an effective way of achieving a more painterly look to my outdoor paintings.”

“Sette DiVino,” by Todd A. Williams, oil, 9 x 12 in.

During the three and a half days Williams worked in Venice, he completed several plein air oil paintings, some of which have subsequently become the basis of larger studio paintings. As he was setting up to paint each of those small panels, he took black-and-white Polaroid photographs of the scenes as a way to quickly evaluate potential compositions of shapes and values. “That’s an idea suggested to me by my friend and mentor, C.W. Mundy,” Williams explains. “Since the Polaroids are black-and-white, they help me establish what I call the ‘VCM’ -- the value color mixture -- or the appropriate mixtures of oil colors that matches the relationships I observe. The same kinds of photographs could be taken with a smart phone and converted to black-and-white images using an app like Instagram or ValueViewer.”

 “Pienza Piazza, Tuscany,” by Todd A. Williams

Williams goes on, “I used a fairly limited palette of colors to capture the moody, atmospheric look of the overcast sky. I started applying a large amount of the oil colors with a palette knife and then I manipulated the paint with a Mongoose brush. As I worked, I kept going back over the painting with the brush and knife to develop a richly textured surface. My normal palette includes titanium white, mars black, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red medium, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, transparent red oxide and Rembrandt cold gray.”

“Selvoli, Tuscany,” by Todd A. Williams

“The key to paint application is to allow myself to be free, experimental, and joyous as if I were a kid again,” Williams wrote in a story included in one of the summer issues of this e-newsletter. “I use different tools -- variously shaped brushes, palette knives or fingers -- to gradually build the layers of paint from thin to thick and lean to fat. I love to move thick oil color around in my paintings because I believe those textural qualities give my paintings more vitality, energy, and individuality. I am not striving for a mechanically precise representation of what I see. Instead, I want to use a variety of paint applications to capture the sense of light, atmosphere, and energy I observe in nature. I achieve that by changing the directions of the marks, varying the thickness of the paint, and applying the color in both broad and linear strokes.

“As a painting progresses, I consider how the edges are working to express what is important about the subject. I want some hard, found edges as well as soft, lost edges. I can evaluate this balance of edges as the painting progresses and make the necessary adjustments by relating one edge to another. It is always good to have four edges represented that will lead the eye of the viewer through the painting and to the focal area.”

Williams concluded, “The three essential parts of the human experience are the body, soul, and spirit. All of them come into play when I paint. The movement of my body affects the physical appearance of the painting, my character and personality (soul) are expressed through my choice of subject and style of painting, and my spirit will breathe life into the images I create. Knowing this, I can review whether or not my paintings are exciting on multiple levels, whether they have poetic passages that speak creatively about me, and if the overall character or focal point of the painting is successful in directing the viewer.” For more information, visit

Read 1337 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 October 2012 11:48
Steve Doherty

Plein air painter, fine art lover, author, and collector.


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