Preparation Matters: How Caroline Jasper Prepares to Paint

When oil painter Caroline Jasper prepares to paint a water scene, she doesn’t go immediately to gessoed canvas. For her, it’s about preparation.

“It’s important to not be making this stuff up as you go along while painting, “ she says in workshop Color Moves. “I’d rather sort out that indecision before going to the painting, before going to the canvas...I want to feel confident about the composition before I get started.”

Jasper has a deep understanding of water. Having grown up near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland she has been watching an fascinated by water her entire life. Jasper knows that water is constantly changing.

“Things change so much from day to day,” she says. “The weather changes. The wind changes. And therefore the water looks different.”

 



The first part of Jasper’s process therefore involves photographs. She waits until the light intrigues her and then captures it with her camera.

But the photograph is just the first step. Next she bring it into Photoshop and starts to think about it from different perspectives. She changes the image so that it’s lighter or darker.

“It might influence my thinking somewhat about the color palette that I’m going to be using to represent water.”

After working with the image in Photoshop, it’s time to start designing her composition.

 



In her sketch she focuses first on the shapes that are the most important. She’s not worried about details. Those will come in later. Pulling out her sketchbook, she works with her image both horizontally and vertically to see which gives her a stronger design. After working through both, she decides to go vertical.

Once she has her sketch in, it’s time to make decisions about values. She uses a sharpie to blog in her darkest darks.

“The big end of the marker,” she says of her Sharpie, "forces me to think in even simpler terms.“

 


Next is her tonal drawing where, with a graphite pencils, she begins putting in the bones of her composition while still thinking about value and shape.  

“You’re looking for the most obvious shapes or lines that are essential to getting things where you want them to be,” says Jasper.

Jasper is also thinking about patterns and she wants to make sure to simplify it.

“I’m thinking strictly in the elements of art, [in] compositional terms,” says Jasper.  “Where are the shapes of dark and light and how much of the composition do they occupy? Where are they positioned and therefore relate to the overall sense of design? So that’s really my only concern at this point.”

It’s not about the detail still and really won’t be until Jasper is working in the main painting itself.

“It’s about shape, value , differences of dark and light and just seeing the composition as shape.“

 



It’s only after this tonal drawing is finished that Jasper begins to turn to her paint in the form of two color studies. These studies, one painted on an orange and one a carmine orange mix, help Jasper decide which colored ground will best express her vision for this particular painting.

“Choose one or the other or a combination depending on which of those choices is going to give you the most hue contrast with prevailing colors in your image.”

She will choose whichever gives the painting the most color contrast between the background and the colors in the water. Jasper knows that if her water appears more greenish in her reference, she’ll choose a background that is more red. However if the water in her photograph reflects more of the cerulean sky, she’ll use something with more orange.

 



Now that Jasper knows her composition, value plan and background color, she is ready to begin her main painting.

Each of these steps helps Jasper become more familiar with her painting subject matter. It also helps her work through the decisions she knows she’ll need to make during the course of her piece

Making these decisions before she begins frees her up to do more of what she wants in the painting itself, mainly, play with color and light. She can’t do that if she’s problem solving things she could have easily with a value study beforehand. So she has created a process that allows her to solve problems first to give her painting freedom later.

To see this process in action, check out Caroline Jasper's workshop, Color Moves.