Creating the painting ‘Muriwai Sunset’

Muriwai Sunset


My recent painting was such a great experience for me and I wanted to create a diary of sorts of how this little painting came to be. Over the next few blog entries, I’ll take you all on a step by step journey of my entire process. As this series of entries unfolds, I would love to have you comment and ask questions on anything from the techniques to the motivation to anything in between. It is so often that the world sees only the few ‘in process’ photos that I post on Facebook and Instagram before the painting is finished. These blog posts will give you access from beginning to end. I hope you enjoy it!

The Beginning

I have been so fortunate to have never been caught with the dreaded Blank Canvas Syndrome. That crushing feeling of staring at a blank canvas with no idea of what to do on it. For me, ideas for paintings are like riding down a river. One painting naturally leads into another. Sometimes it is crazy like rapids, sometimes it is smooth and seamless. This painting is no exception. My latest series of paintings have been centered around beach scenes. specifically of places around Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Having grown up in Massachusetts and having the ocean be a very big part of my life, it just seemed natural to tell those stories. These works are painted on small aluminium panels and then I float them in a frame above sand from the same area of the subject. The first in the series is of the art galleries on Commercial Street in Provincetown.


I was talking to my cousin about this new group of paintings and it had come up that he was planning a trip to New Zealand. With that, I asked him to do me a favor. I asked for some photos and a handful of sand from a beach that he found interesting. Did he ever come through. One of his stops was at Muriwai Beach which is on the Northwestern coast of New Zealand and his sunset photos were more than I could have asked for. The black sand from this volcanic beach was equally incredible.

Now that I had my reference photo and sand, I was able to set up the painting.

The first step for me in any new painting is to develop the composition. Composing the elements in a painting create everything from movement to emotion. Objects can lead the viewer through the piece and then hold them within that piece. In a case like the Muriwai painting, the challenge is that there are fewer points of interest to play around with. The attention that the brilliant setting sun demands is obvious so that was the place to start. Rather than  have the sun dead center, which would give a feeling of serenity, I offset it to the right. The waves have so much going on in them with all the highlights, shadows and reflections that it will be a perfect way to give the viewers eye something to follow. Muriwai has these great natural vents as well so I shifted them over to the left to give a stronger diagonal sense of movement.

Once the composition is set, I reduce the photo to the actual size of the painting and then convert it to black and white. These will become the stencils that I will use to block in the major areas of the painting.


With the reference photo and copies made, I am ready to prep the panel for paint. In the next blog installment, I’ll show how I get those things ready! Again, if you have any questions  or comments along the way, I would love to have you ask them below.

Posted in How-to

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