I used to balk at doing studies before embarking on a large piece. I was afraid they would take some of the enthusiasm, the freshness away. A “successful” study might make me rigid and want to replicate my efforts exactly large scale.

Well, That’s Silly Lazy Thinking.

A study for me is a blessing. It saves me from making huge mistakes or disappointing myself on a large expensive sheet of paper. It gives me a chance to play, try out different angles, colors, patterns, and compositions in a short amount of time. (Have I mentioned it takes me upwards of 60 to 80 hours to complete a piece?) In the end, I have a little series of painted notes that not only help me in the immediate piece ahead but can be added to a personal library of watercolor technique trial and errors. Or happy mistakes.

In short, art studies take the pressure off. It’s not like I am goofing off or not accomplishing anything as I once thought.
The other thing is that people really enjoy seeing artists’ studies, their art journals, witnessing their process, how they solve a visual, medium, or technical problem. We all learn something.

A Sample Study To Illustrate My Point.

first step study of aspen leaves scattered on pathway through park in autumn
Study of Aspen Leaves on Pathway Through the Park in Autumn.
Watercolor on 300lb. Fabriano Hotpress Watercolor Paper.
11 x 7 inches.

STEP ONE: Ultimately this will be a much larger piece (30 x 22) and I know what effect I want. That is, high contrast between the various yellows, browns, and oranges of the fallen Aspen leaves and the dark paved pathway. To avoid a flat black surface, I paint a wash of cerulean blue mixed with a bit of indigo around the leaves. Then I paint the leaves. It was also important to give a sense of perspective. To see the leaves right underfoot larger and the leaves that have blown ahead on the path to be smaller. This will (hopefully!) give the viewer a sense they are standing right there. That may not come across in a small-scale study but it is what I am striving for with the large-scale piece.

high contrast finished study of aspen leaves scattered on paved park pathway in autumn
Finished study. The pathway has been illustrated using Micron Archival Ink pens.
Was it tedious to go in and ink the pattern of the pathway? Hell no. Like most of my work, it’s meditative. I love the process. It would only get frustrating if my pen dried up or I didn’t have a spare. Thankfully, I have lots of spares. Thanks, Dad!

STEP TWO: Like the caption reads, I inked in the pathway as a pattern with specks of small stones to add texture. I was pretty pleased with the effect and the contrast. After finishing the study, I feel really good about starting (which is in the works) the larger version of Aspen Leaves on Pathway in Autumn. Inspiration for this piece came from an overcast autumn morning while walking in Thomas Lake Prairie Preserve. The leaf color popped on the dark pathway. It was like a “follow the yellow brick road” moment.

YOUR TURN: How do you feel about doing studies? What do you learn? Do you like your studies more than the final piece? (it happens sometimes) Don’t be shy. Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

If you like what you see, please be kind and share!

close detailed watercolor of autumn leaf litter in soft pinks, blues, violets, oranges and burnt sienna 20 x 20 inches unframed

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