Posted by: Julie Duell | May 21, 2008


Greetings all! 

All Artists no doubt have different ways of working and  I thought it might be of interest in this Post to share with you my journey in painting some beach rocks north of Coffs Harbour.  

Materials:   I started by having ready a large stretched canvas, Willow charcoal, Spray fixative, Acrylic paints, assorted brushes and a painting knife.

I began with a charcoal sketch on the canvas, taken from a small on-site sketch in my crowded little sketch book, along with a few backup photos taken on our holiday. There were buildings on a headland behind the rocks in the photo, but I left them out – opting for a plain sky area as a backdrop.


To my surprise, as I sketched, there seemed to be some faces suggested in the forms!

This is not surprising, as Tony and often see faces in trees, rocks and clouds. I decided to go with it and see what happened.  Most of them seemed to be sleeping or kind of basking in the sun.

Before getting into too much detail, I decided to spray the charcoal sketch with Fixative and start painting.   Mixing lots of warm and cool colours in the acrylics on a nice big palette, I worked quickly to get down the dark and medium tones, leaving the lights until last.  Sorry I don’t have a couple more progress photos during this stage, but I got so carried away I truly forgot to take them!  

Next, I covered all the white canvas areas with light tones in order to evaluate the overall. While ever there is white canvas or paper showing as your painting progresses, the whole thing looks fresher than it will when covered (unless you choose to leave some white of course) – so it is important not to lose the lights. In fact I have a little sign on my easel that says 2 things   1. Don’t lose the lights! and 2. What are you painting and why?  LEAVE OUT EVERYTHING ELSE!   Of course the latter is a ‘hard ask’ but it makes me think about what I am doing a bit more instead of charging ahead trying to capture everything in one artwork!

I decide to hit the light areas with texture using a painting knife and full bodied paint. Some of my acrylics are thicker than others, so if I want more body I just add in a little modelling paste.  I think the textured lights should sing nicely against more transparent shadowed areas in thinner paint.  Let’s see if that works…


Ah!  Now it is time to look at the composition upside down.  I sit for some time analysing it this way because now I can disassociate myself with the shapes as rocks and sand – they are simply shapes, tones and colours to be balanced nicely.   I am looking for harmony with variation to hold interest. 

I am fairly happy with the composition, but it lacks refinement so I spend a lot of time softening here, strengthening there, warming or cooling further, glazing with thin paint for added glow etc. Another rock face began to appear during this phase! Can you see where? 

I decide to add some small rocks to the right hand bottom corner for better interest, balance and lead in to the picture.

Finally, after many hours more refining andstrengthening  the work, plus adding more texture for close up interest, I get a feeling of completion.   No areas are crying out for improvement  any more – no awkward brush strokes or clumsy lines.  The ambience is rather nice – I get the feeling of that sunny afternoon. I sit back and enjoy a cuppa with a big sigh!  All I have to do now is sign and date the painting, then give it a name…

Did you pick the final rock face to appear?  He is rather cute don’t you think – the one profiled at the bottom right hand side. I get a feeling that he might have just said the Hitchcock cliche’ “Good evening!”


I guess I would have to say I’m a impulsive painter.  I’d rather jump in the deep end with an idea just hatching and solve problems along the way than plan things out too much. 

There are always spontaneous happenings that can reveal themselves and it is nice to be open to them.  In this case, it was the faces in the rocks! This is what makes it such an adventure and so totally absorbing!   Just running on “instinct” sounds a bit vague, but I suppose it is instinct arising out of many years of painting experience.  a bit like a pianist who just plays with feeling and emotion, having long forgotten the scales learned so long ago.)  Promptings come in all along the way like a little voice in my head when I am painting and they usually happen when I sit back between stages and ponder two little words …… ‘WHAT IF?”  Like to share a little of your painting journey?  Leave us a comment below…






  1. As for the diptych painted in 2007, I absolutely love both versions but I prefer the lightened softened version the best. I love, love you blog it’s fantastic.

    • Thanks for the feedback Lorraine. Julie

  2. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.

  3. Thanks for the feedback folks. Nice to share isn’t it? The free E-Books are coming through Martha- the first 2 on posts 21 & 27 with more in the near future. “Spriteland” will be launched in September in Kincumber Library, involving local schools. Cheers! Julie

  4. It’ a lovely subject and a good tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Descant

  6. Julie, I absolutely love all the new work you’ve put up. And thank you so much for those sample drawings. I think posting an E-book is a great idea….but I’m ready for a real book!

    When I get back from my roadtrip, I’m going to print out those “activity pages” and work on them with the little girl that I tutor.

    Thank you so much for your skill and creativity!

  7. I love this painting.

    Wonderful imagination!

    Keep up the great work.

    • I appreciate the love and effort that went into the painting ,,, very interesting.

      • Many thanks indeed.

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