Wyatt Painting Stages Video

by Lisa Larrabee

Wyatt was recently selected to be a finalist in the Richeson 75 International 2013 Small Works competition.  Although I have shared photos of the stages with descriptions of the technique used, I love watching one phase merge into the next.  I decided to play around with a little video editing.  I hope you enjoy it!

~ Lisa


Baby Wyatt Portrait in Oil

by Lisa Larrabee

oil  6" x 6"
Richeson 75 International
Small Works finalist

I was looking forward to working on this painting for several reasons.  First, I loved the picture and I was excited to create the painting for his parents. Second, I wanted to play with the process and try out some variations on a technique that is fairly new to me.  I thought I might try be able to use this technique on an upcoming painting on a much larger scale.  It was time to play!

My intention was for these mid-values to show between the lights and darks in the finished painting.  With this in mind, I used warm colors behind the face and hand and cooler colors in the shadows and blankets.

I began painting using the same process I mentioned in my previous post: Monochromatic Portrait Painting.  I used titanium white and allowed the colors underneath to show through by scumbling.

At this stage, in my previous post, I would have begun adding the dark values.  Instead, I opted to let it dry and glaze a layer of translucent colors.

I used minuscule amounts of alizarin crimson and cobalt blue mixed with Gamblin Gamsol (OMS) and Galkyd (oil glazing medium).

With the colors adjusted (and dry), I went back to titanium white to brighten the lost highlights.

At this stage, I added dark values.  I didn't push the darks to their extremes because I didn't want to loose the soft pastel effect.  I was very tempted to end the painting here, but I was caught on the idea of adding a very soft golden glaze to some of the highlights.  Also, I wanted to push the lights and darks just a touch.

I went with my instincts and tried it.  Let me warn you: a little goes a long way!  (and I mean very little).  I moved the tiniest bit around over key highlights.  It was so subtle, at one point I wasn't sure if I was seeing the yellow or if it was an optical after-image.  I made a few more adjustments and I am really happy with the result.  You can bet that I will be playing around with this technique some more!

~ Lisa


Monochromatic Portrait Paintings

by Lisa Larrabee

I started these monochromatic studies of my boys with the intention of glazing color over them.  This whole process was very foreign to me.  I typically build both contrast and details gradually.  Beginning with strong darks, lights and details was completely the opposite of what I was used to, but it was also instantly rewarding.  So much so, that I didn't want to add color.

Starting on a solid background color, I painted directly with white oil paint.  I began with the lightest area in order to make value comparisons against it. 

Titanium white is the only paint being used at this stage.  I did not thin the paint with any medium.  Transitioning from the light to medium values was achieved by scumbling with very little paint on my brush.  The effect is broken color that allows the underlying base color to show through.

Although this technique was new to me for a portrait, I had stumbled upon it quite by accident when painting the pin-striped baby blankets in my painting, New Day.

Once the lights were complete (and dry), I painted the darks in the same way.  I liked the old sepia feel to the portraits, so I left them as they were.  With each painting, I try to learn something new.  I started my painting of Aubry using this same method, but continued by glazing colors.  

I have also recently experimented with another variation of this technique that I will be posting once the original painting has been delivered. "Like" my Larrabee Art Facebook page to see updates from my teaching blog.



Harvest: Portrait Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

artist Lisa Larrabee
20" x 24"  Oil

There are many different ways to begin a painting.  One technique that I particularly enjoy involves "drawing in paint".  When I begin a portrait in this way, there is little to no preliminary drawing.  I begin my sketching of the features in paint.  I avoid creating too much contrast (lightest lights and darkest shadows) because it is much more forgiving when moving the paint around to make corrections.  This push and pull of shapes and shadows actually feels more to me like sculpting the features then drawing them.

As the features of the portrait get more accurate, I begin adding some stronger color and contrast.  This process has been painted alla prima (wet into wet).

It is very important to step back regularly from your painting to be able to accurately judge your progress and make corrections.  Some helpful tips: 
  • Take digital pictures of your work in progress.  Seeing your painting reduced to the size of a thumbnail can be incredibly helpful because it allows you to view the painting as a whole.   You get the added bonus of keeping a record of your painting stages.  
  • Use the grayscale function to view how accurately your values are painted.  
  • Look at your painting in a mirror.  If you feel like something is off, but you can't put your finger on it, seeing the mirror image can make the mistakes very clear.

Happy painting!
~ Lisa


Painting Negative Space: Part III

by Lisa Larrabee

The Spaces Between
Oil  24" x 24"
artist Lisa Larrabee

In the third, and final, post of this series I want to share the most  recent of my paintings that is built around negative space.  It is also the largest and most complex.  

I started with a detailed painting of the trees because the subject was so intricate.

When it was dry, I glazed over the entire painting with a warm orange-pink.

Once dry, I painted white back into all of the negative spaces between the branches.  It is important not to just paint around the existing branches, but to paint around new shapes.  This creates more complexity and depth.

There was some back and forth repainting the tree and the spaces between.  It may seem like a lot of extra work for a painting that appears primarily black and white.  However, I have found that subtle shifts of color or temperature are dynamic when they get a chance to play a more prominent role within a neutral color scheme.

~ Lisa


Painting Negative Space: Part II

by Lisa Larrabee

16" x 20"
Richeson 75 International
Landscape finalist 

This tree is in my backyard, and I take a lot of satisfaction in watching the light and colors change as sun sets through it at the end of the day. Although the composition is the same as Fiery Pine, I had no intention of painting the same piece twice.  I want to include this process to show a different technique for approaching a painting through the negative spaces.

Instead of beginning on a warm background, I drew a somewhat detailed picture on a white canvas.  After cutting my paint with a slow drying oil medium, I thinly covered the whole surface.

I began to block in some darks, then decided against it.  The negative spaces (light areas) were lifted off using a combination of paper towels and clean brushes for details.  This was actually quick and a lot of fun.

Completing this tree was far less fun.  To be honest, it was a struggle and it spent lengthy periods of time "drying" in an open closet.  I had begun experimenting with glazes and had to learn to stop when layers got sticky.  If you look, you can also see branches that come forward by painting the negative space showing the green boughs behind them.  In the end, the layering built up to create some very delicate color transitions that I am happy with.

~ Lisa


Painting Negative Space: Part I

by Lisa Larrabee

Fiery Pine
Oil  20" x 24"
artist Lisa Larrabee

In my art classes, I often encourage painting the negative spaces.  As a technique, it is incredibly useful. However, it can take some mental adjustments to be able to define an object, not by painting the object itself, but by painting, in essence, around the object.  I love to do this, and continue to experiment with variations of painting negative spaces.

In this example, the tree was blocked in very loosely over a warm background. 

This is where the negative space painting begins.  I very deliberately painted around the branches (painting the sky behind).  While doing this, I also transitioned the color from a blue-violet on the right side to a red-violet.  As I watched the sun set through the tree, I tried to be very observant about the colors of the edges.  The shift from warm to cool was what I experienced.

The final stage stage involved painting around all of the edges again, and filling in the background color.  The trick is to allow for that color energy to show along the edges.  Also, don't just retrace around what you initially painted.  Additional branches were added by painting around them.  I simply left space where I wanted a new branch to be.  It adds depth to a tree that is really quite stylized.  Finally, yellow and orange accents were added to emulate the light catching needles and branches.

More to come about painting negative spaces.

~ Lisa


Remembrance -Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

Have you ever spent countless hours on a painting only to find yourself stuck?  I assume that every artist has been there.  At the stage below, I was at a loss as to how to proceed.  I liked how the light through the trees had greater intensity than on the figure.  I was also happy with how I painted the repeated figure's face in the negative spaces between the branches.  However, it didn't quite feel right, and I could not put my finger on it.  (Looking back, it seems quite clear!)

I moved on, but it continually nagged at me.  Finally, after a long break, I decided what I needed to do to finish it.  I typically never go back and work on an older piece, but this one demanded it.  I had just finished a few landscape paintings, and had rediscovered an amazing tonalist landscape painter, Brent Cotton.  With new momentum and inspiration, I felt I had the tools to overhaul this piece.  One element that was clearly missing was the sunlight ricocheting, adding deep warm color to the trees and branches.  With that as a starting place, I was able to make some dramatic changes before repainting the figures in relationship to the new hues and values.

I wanted to share this example because we all get stuck.  Oftentimes, the solution is to back away and return with a fresh perspective.  Get some feedback, and let go enough to be willing to make the changes once you realize what needs to be done.  In the end, I finally felt that my painting realized it's potential.  It just took awhile.

Scottsdale Biennale Finalist, Wee Gallery of Fine Art 
Meritorious Entry, Richeson 75 International Figure/Portrait 

~ Lisa


New Day -Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

New Day  
Oil  9" x 9" 

artist Lisa Larrabee

Richerson 75 International
Figure/Portrait finalist

What is more tedious than painting baby blankets and caps with tiny pinstripes?  Painting the negative space around the pinstripes!  Once I had the idea, I just had to try it.  It presented a big risk, though.  If it came out too stylized and distracted from my babies, I would have to paint over it regardless of how long it took to create.

 As the fabric came together piece by piece, it became clear that I needed to lighten the values.  The second layer involved brightening each section as needed.  Shown here, the caps and bottom right corner have yet to be adjusted.

Due to the tedious process of painting the negative spaces, there was little room for error along the edges where skin met fabric.  This, and the tiny size, required that I lay in my underpainting for the figures with much more detail than I have in previous portraits.

This painting stage shows the completed underpainting for the portraits.  Colors are close approximations and the values are a little on the dark side to allow for the highlights to be built up.

I tried several techniques on this painting that were new to me.  First, the detailed negative space painting.  I think I found a nice blend of stylized realism that compliments the portraits.  Second, I referred regularly to the photo reference on my computer monitor (instead of a print) to enlarge details and see more luminous color.  Finally, I experimented with glazes in order to capture the fragile translucence of newborn skin.  I created this painting for me, and I set very high expectations.  I pushed myself further, and I must say, I absolutely love it!  I hope you do too.

~ Lisa



Welcome to my blog.  This is a new experience for me, but I am excited to share my thoughts, artistic suggestions, and painting process with you.  Those of you who are familiar with my website, Larrabee Art, will have noticed that it just underwent a major transformation.  One change is that I no longer have included a section for stages of my paintings.  That is where this blog comes in.  I will be including painting stages of a selection of pieces, share some of the process (sometimes the struggles), techniques, inspirations, etc.  Who knows exactly where this will go, but I hope that you will join me on this journey.

~ Lisa


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