What Happens If You Just Can Not Finish A Painting In One Session?

I just got off the phone with a lovely lady that was just perplexed what to do if she couldn’t finish a painting all in one sitting. Was it permissible to finish a painting another day? She’s not alone. I must receive this email 30 times a month if I receive it at once.

Somehow, we’ve taken a benefit of the wet-on-wet painting style and turned it into a do or die rule. With the wet-on-wet (or wet-in-wet) style of painting, we “can” finish our painting in one session. But what’s happened is that this benefit is promoted so much by advocates, we “think” we must finish a painting each time we sit down at the easels. TV artists promote then feature and, we have countless classes taught across the planets whereby a painting is finished in a single 4-5 hour workshop. This reinforces the concept that you’ll be eternally damned if you don’t finish a painting in a single session. Nothing could be further from the truth. Students are simply “not taught how” to complete a painting in multiple sessions.
The short and sweet of it all is, yes you can. You can take as many sessions as you’d like to finish a painting. You can finish a painting and then six months later come back and fix something if you’d like.

Over the next few minutes, I’d like to explore with you how, by using three techniques, you can return to a painting that has dried and continue. I cover this in the Basic Techniques of Painting Flowers Series, so if you’d like to see how I return to a painting, that’s the series to watch.

I love painting when I’m in the mood to paint, but once that mood passes and I’m tired, I lay the brush down and return another day. But before you lay down your brush for the day, take a look at your painting and plan your return.

For a landscape painting, where are you when you want to call it a day?

Have you finished the sky, but need to add clouds on another day? If so, then simply clean your brushes and walk away. When you return, put medium into your cloud mixture(s). You will not be able to pick up any of the sky color as you paint your clouds, so take that into consideration as well. Add a touch of your sky color into the cloud mixture if that’s the case. If you’re painting clouds with multiple colors, start by painting the darkest color on, blend, then the next brighter color, blend and repeat the process until you’ve got your clouds painted.

Have you finished the sky, clouds, but need to pick-up painting mountains? The best advice I can give you is if you feel you may not finish your mountains, don’t lay down the base color for the mountains. Wait until you return to the painting. Then you just load up the base color onto your knife and build the shapes you want. Remember….shape, scrape, and spread the base to form your mountains. IF you should finish the base shape for your mountains, but can’t continue, than I simply put medium into my mountain highlight color and shadowlight color and load up the knife with an even smaller roll of paint than normal and continue painting.

Have you finished skies, clouds, mountains, but need to pick-up with foothills or a distant shore? Just simply add a small amount of medium to the paint and continue painting as though you were on the first session.

What about evergreen trees, foliage, grass, bushes….? If you know you’re going to need to break a painting into two sessions and you’re wondering about whether or not to base color the trees, etc… don’t. It’s better to leave the base coloring to the session you’ll highlight. Now if I decide after basing to end the painting session, than upon my return I have two options. First, I can rebase these elements, or secondly I’ll wet the entire evergreen trees, follage, grass, bushes, etc… with an even THIN coat of medium clear. Then I’ll mix up the exact highlight I want and paint. Just remember you’re not picking up any color from the base, so check out your highlight brightness to ensure you’re not too bright. You can even add a bit of the base color to your highligt color to dull it a bit if you are too bright.

How do I paint those big, tall, stately trees when I return to a painting? This is very easy to do. I’ll take a filbert brush or a fan brush and load it up with the dark color (typically Van Dyke Brown or Burnt Umber) and without any medium, dry brush the basic shape of the tree and its major limbs onto the dried canvas. Then I’ll pick up the knife or brush and paint on the highlights as I normlly would. I’ll thin the base color with medium (not thinner) to paint on all those wiggly little branches. Don’t make this mixture runny like ink since the surface is dry. It has to be soft enough for your script liner to easily paint on the branches.

Ocean scenes and seascapes? Simply wet the surface you’re about to paint on with an even, THIN coat of medium (wipe off excess with an absorbant cloth or paper towel if you need) and continue painting as though you’re on your first session. Just remember, that if the canvas is dry, you’ll need to add some of the base color to your paints to adjust the brightness.

Flowers, tall ships, portraits, wildlife? Again, simply wet the surface you’re about to paint on with an even, THIN coat of medium (wipe off excess with an absorbant cloth or paper towel if you need) and continue painting as described in the preceeding paragraph.

You primarily have 3 methods of regaining the “wet-on-wet” or “wet-in-wet” environment of your first session in subsequent painting sessions.

  • Basecoating the objects your painting using no medium and highlighting as you normally would.
  • Mixing medium into the paints you’re layering onto the canvas in the subsequent painting sessions.
  • Wet the canvas area you’ll be painting with a THIN even coat of medium and then continuing your painting sessions.

I trust you’ll find this enhances your painting experience and keeps you in control whenever you decide to paint.

Darrell