Here, I will show you how I complete a definitive painting. I start by going into the field and completing a painting in plein air. In the field I will work out the composition and the colors. You may ask, "If you work out everything in the field, why must you then make a copy of it?" The point of a definitive painting is not to make a copy, but to improve upon your original painting. The point of your plein air painting is to improve upon nature. The point of a definitive painting is to improve upon your field painting.
This particular example is from a painting completed on one of my trips to the Pinnacles National Monument on the High Peaks Trail. The Pinnacles refer to volcanic rock outcroppings thrusting up from the ground. This rock formation is not the best shape for a painting because it is so unusual. But, I was drawn to it.
You can change colors, reshape your trees and clouds, and anything else to heighten and clarify your painting. I work with a burnt sienna ground in my definitive paintings.
My friend, teacher and mentor, Maynard Dixon Stewart approaches his definitive paintings by creating an underpainting. He will also work out his painting compositions on the computer. He says, and I agree, that if Leonardo DaVinci had a computer, he would have used it as a tool in creating his compositions.
In field painting, Plein air, I complete the painting alla prima, all at once. This example is 16"x12. Then I will touch it up back in the studio. In a definitive painting I work thin to thick in the traditional manner."
Thin to thick refers to the paint layers, thick impasto laid in over the thinner initial painted layers. And thin to fat refers to the medium. The medium is thinned with a solvent, turpentine in my case, in the beginning stages of the painting. I increase the medium to thinner ratio until I am using my unthinned medium. By the end of the painting I am using my medium in its unthinned state. Although that is not quite an accurate statement. I initially thin my medium with turpentine so that it is not too viscous and keep that mix in a bottle. I desire just the right amount of drag when painting, Too much drag? Thin the medium. So, when I say unthinned state, I am referring to my premixed medium.
So by the end of the painting I am painting thick and fat.
I made some compositional changes, and added more detail even after I thought the painting was complete. The last image shows the dramatic changes.