I finished this painting recently and wanted to share some notes on the process. What started out as an abstract turned to what I saw as a face with small shapes of light in the surroundings. These fractal shapes, to me, appeared like the bits of sunlight do in the morning as the sun is coming up and touching different elements with glints of color as it rises. The painting is titled “Dawn”, is oil on panel, and is 8×8″.

images 1 – 5 of the progression of “Dawn”

Image 1 (top left)

This painting started out as abstract marks with the purpose of exploring and making some different marks with varying thicknesses of paint. Some marks were made with spatulas, picking out the paint from the surface, and some marks were made with flat brushes, as well as mops to soften the larger thinner areas of paint. (I have several posts here on Muddy Colors about these tools and my process such as here and here and here). This start was a bit thicker than my usual starts, and required a little more drying time before working on the next layer. I had it on my drying racks in my studio for a couple weeks, and saw a face in the abstract while it was drying.


Image 2 (top center)

The face I saw was a ¾ face near the center, looking to the right. With a neutral grey, I made an indication of the eye sockets, shadow under the nose under the tooth cylinder/lower lip just as a quick way to remind myself of what I saw with small notes in paint. I also covered some of the dark blue marks in the bridge of the nose area so it would dry and I could build up later without them being distracting to the forms.


Image 3 (top right)

In this stage, I worked on the face a bit more, extending the larger forms while also refining the details of the features in the face. I added some warmer tones to the surrounding areas around the face, and kept the face generally cooler in tone with notes of warm tones in the shadows of the features.


Image 4 (lower left)

Here, I had the idea to describe a shoulder a bit more, but ultimately decided to push that into the atmosphere again in the finished painting. The warmer tones I had added surrounding the face in the prior step appeared in somewhat of a sphere behind/around the head. This felt like it was depicting a glow to me – like sunlight or an abstract indication of backlighting – and I also wanted to keep the fractal shapes and lines in that area, which looked somewhat like stained glass to me. I built up more of those fractal shapes with a bit more contrast between the shapes – some light, some darker, and some flicks of greens and blues, with more lines to divide them in some areas too. In order to make these shapes and lines, I mostly used spatulas to put the paint down and slide it across the painting. This allowed for some more texture in some areas because the paint was dragging across texture that was already established and dry.

This WIP is a stage between Images 4 and 5


Image 5 (lower right in progression from above images, the finish – also below)

There was a lot more warmth added overall to the final painting. Warmer notes of paint in the top third were added with a palette knife and brushes and sometimes pieces of foam core to get some varied marks. I tweaked the yellows overall to a redder and less green tone by adding a very subtle glaze of red over the yellows. The skintone went warmer as well, and I smoothed over some of the lines in the face where I thought they might feel out of place or distracting once it had reached this stage. In other places such as the fractal shapes, I added more lines and hard edges surrounding the face. The details in the facial features were last to be added, with some highlights and darker accents and refining edges of the bridge of the nose, jaw, and chin with a slightly wider range of color while rendering the edges where the face is surrounded by the yellow on the right.

“Dawn”, oil on panel, 8×8″


I had some fun with some different mark-making on this one, inspired by the indications of sunlight and how at dawn, the light seems to appear in fragments on the elements it touches in the environment. I hope you enjoyed this quick progression of my painting. Thanks for reading!