UART Tip #04: On Starting and Finishing a Painting with Lyn Asselta

The process of starting and finishing a painting is a broad topic, to be sure, and a topic that is a bit different for each artist. Being a landscape painter, there are a few things that I consider carefully before I start each painting. First and foremost is my subject matter. A very close second is determining what sort of mood or atmosphere will help turn that subject matter into a painting that someone will react to or take an interest in. I try to determine what format (a square, a rectangle, a long horizontal format…) will help create the best composition for this particular painting and I also try to come up with a color palette that will be meaningful and reflect the mood I’m trying to create.

Whether I’m working en plein air or working from reference photos, I am always looking for something that grabs my attention and feels exciting to me. I don’t always look for something interesting or beautiful. These two things can be a bit of a trap for the artist. They can be too predictable, and predictability can easily become boring. Plus, I want to be able to express the way I feel about the thing that has attracted me to a particular scene so I don’t want to risk letting a specific element in the painting “take over” and the emotion get lost. If I focus on painting a particular tree, for example, I may get so fixated on trying to paint a “portrait” of that tree that I end up overlooking the broader image altogether.


I really want a painting that is cohesive as a whole. I want a painting that combines an exciting subject with a mood or atmosphere to support that subject. So, I need to find a focal point (something that grabs my attention) but I also need to be sure to see the other parts of the painting as important support for that focal point. Using my emotions to guide the painting process helps me to focus on the mood of the entire painting, rather than to try to “copy” a particular part of the scene in front of me. I rely on the mood of the painting to inform my color choices, the way I place pastel strokes on the surface of the painting, and to help determine the composition, including what I choose to leave in or take out of the painting.

As I work, I am constantly evaluating these things. The painting process takes on a rhythm. When I place a color here, I realize that I need to place a different color there. Each mark dictates where the next mark should go, if I’m listening carefully enough to the painting. I move back and forth constantly from the easel so that I can see the whole painting from a slight distance. Never underestimate the importance of this “dance”!!

As the painting progresses, I start to notice that the rhythm of my work slows down. The marks start to become even more deliberate and the process is now more about accentuating parts of the painting that need to be played up a bit, or de-emphasizing parts of the painting that don’t need to be drawing attention. This gradual slow-down of the painting process is when you need to start listening closely to your painting. You’re coming to the end. You have the information you need now and you have to be very careful not to add more at this point. This is when we are most vulnerable to overworking a painting. When you feel the process slowing down and you start to think to yourself, “what if I just added this……..?” Step away!!!!!! Step far, far away.


If you learn to listen to your painting, it will quietly tell you when it’s done. The trick is, to be paying attention. Don’t let your head get in the way of your intuition, and keep listening. You’ll hear it!

Lyn Asselta, PSA, IAPS MC

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