Mini Demo: Designing a Clear Path to the Focal Point

See how Michele Usebelli paints a winter barn scene in three steps in this mini-less from Plein Air Today and PleinAir Magazine (subscribe here).

Designing a Clear Path to the Focal Point

Step 1:

rough sketch of a barn

“For more complex compositions, this step might take more time than the painting,” Usibelli says of the initial drawing, made in acrylic. “Sometimes it’s just a series of lines and dots to mark compositional and edge placement points, but every notation is important.” With architectural paintings, she uses a straight edge at this stage to keep her lines neat.

Step 2:

Step 2 of a barn painting

Next, she lays in the darkest darks in a transparent wash. “As I lay down paint from this point on, I am always aware of how it compares to what has already been painted on the canvas,” she says.

“Is it darker or lighter, warmer or cooler, thicker or thinner, saturated or less saturated? Energy in a painting is created through these contrasts. I also pay attention to connecting all of the darks to create a fluid backbone that supports the painting.”

Final Step:

Michele Usibelli, "Winter Barn," 2019, acrylic, 9 x 12 in., Collection the artist, Plein air
Michele Usibelli, “Winter Barn,” 2019, acrylic, 9 x 12 in., Collection the artist, Plein air

The artist then develops the focal point. “I start with the pop of red and pink on the barn, moving down the roofline to the high-key warm notes on the lower roof, which then lead your eye down the side of the barn, reversing to the warm pinks that take you through the snow.

“As the artist, you decide how the viewer moves through your painting. Here, I want the viewer to enter through the snowy foreground on the lower right, head toward the trees on the left, follow the edge of the barn and up the roofline, and travel down the other side. The bright turquoise to the right of the barn acts like a period, bringing your eye back to the starting point.”

Editor’s Note: Inside the new art video workshop, “Painting with Gouache,” award-winning artist Michele Usibelli will show you her unique method we call the “FocalFirst” approach, and much more. Learn how to paint with gouache here.

Become a better outdoor painter today when you get the FREE e-Book for artists, “240 Plein Air Painting Tips.” [click here]

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