UART Tip #13: Loosen-Up and Speed-Up Your Painting Session with Nancie King Mertz

Step 1:  Whether studio or plein air, I always first map out a composition with directional “tic-marks” using vine charcoal. This ensures that each element I want to include has its space and prevents letting the subject “grow”, wishing for more painting surface.

Step 2 a&b:  Broad strokes of darks are blocked-in next and a light wash of dematured alcohol is applied with a fan brush (Grey Matters by Richeson is my durable favorite).  With my method, it’s important to get the darks in first (no lights yet!) and wash them down with a light application of alcohol.  Drips are fine as is loose, random brushwork at this stage.

Step 3:  Darks are applied more heavily-handed on top of those I’ve knocked down with the wash, to provide interesting mark-making.

Step 4:  I then go in with the mid-tones and color that bring life to the piece, defining form and edges with soft and hard sticks, but still keeping it loose and fun.

Final step:  Additional color is added to keep the image lively and to define space.  Throughout the process, minimal drawing was done with the end of the stick, but rather I do most of the work with the soft or hard side, and then add a few light highlights with the end, at the end!

Alaskan Hideaway, 15×23

Nancie King Mertz

Visit Nancie’s website at to view more of her work and her workshop schedule. She will be teaching a 3-day UART workshop in Chicago, IL July 7-9. For more info click here.