A work in progress

A work in progress from conception to framing.  Join me in the studio as this painting is developed and I strive to push it toward the aesthetic I envision.  Discover painting insights along the way and how a major change was made about half way through.


Click on any image to enlarge.


This painting was created over many sessions – of hours each session.  In real time I think it would be like watching grass grow!  Hopefully this may be a bit less boring, or at least incrementally less so!  For me though, it is never like that!  It was begun in January 2018 at the request of my good friends Gary and Reina Bernfeld.  They asked for a still life painting of 30″x40″ which they were already planning to hang in a certain place in their home.  We discussed other paintings I completed prior to when I created this composition – which gave me insights into what they may like in terms of color and subject matter.  Normally when composing, I go through several variations of a set up – looking to see what I think will be a successful painting.  Each set up will be viewed from a distance – then in a hand held mirror to see it with fresh eye (I find this very helpful).  In the case of this painting, the composition was created very quickly.  Within a few variations I strongly felt the composition would translate into a successful painting.  When it comes to composing a painting, I’ve discovered the quicker the  composing time period, the painting has a better chance of success.  Which I suggest is a direct influence of inspiration – the more inspired a composition is, the quicker it is created; and the more inspired, the more successful.



OH NO a blank white canvas!  This is actually an exciting time – to anticipate getting started!  I’ve decided on the composition, now it’s time to start.  This is a stretched canvas, 30″x40″.  Usually I won’t tone the canvas (cover the canvas with a mid- value neutral color) – although in the past I did when starting a painting.  With having experience doing so many paintings, I’m comfortable navigating it’s progress with the initial canvas white.  As you will soon see, the stark white is also quickly mitigated as it’s covered with the early initial rough-ins (this serves as a substitute for the pre-toning).  This unpainted canvas is just marked with charcoal tics alone the outer perimeter to indicate the half, thirds, and quarters along each side, top, and bottom.  This simply gives me some guides to tweak the composition into position within the pictorial plane.  For example, some of the elements may be lined up with an actual tic mark if I think it is close enough already.  The same will be done with the diagonals (where the tic marks connect at the diagonals) – or I may rhyme the diagonal with an element (where an angle of an element is at the same angle as the tic mark diagonal, but isn’t exactly over it).  If all this seems confusing, it really isn’t.  This is similar to composing music where the music is created on a scale, each note can be harmonically repeated up and down and across instruments.  When I tweak a composition as explained above, it is simply to put the composition into a scale.  Although it isn’t obvious in the final painting, it helps make the painting more pleasing to look at.  Time to start.

Here I begin with a quick charcoal sketch directly on the canvas.  Trying to size up the elements and tweaking their positions – balancing the placement relative to the pictorial plane edges and the armature of the rectangle (which the tic marks denote as explained above).  It’s typical for me to move the elements slightly up down, left, right, to get everything just right.  Although this was done with charcoal, it’s sometimes done directly with paint.  This painting was completed from life in front of the actual set up, however I do not blindly copy my set up.  Interpretation is a big part of creating a compelling painting and this involves everything from positioning, color choices, and so much more.

By the way, the draped towel at the left is changed in a major way about half way through this painting – will explain more later.



These first few images are the initial rough in with paint –  using primarily earth tones such as raw and burnt umber, burnt sienna, and lead white in these initial layers as the composition is set.  Many details are left out early on as only the major elements are laid in.  “Happy little details” (who said that?)





A bit further along with the vase getting more attention.





Now that most of the elements are in I can begin to see how everything works together.  At this stage, many techniques will be used to get it all on the canvas as quickly as possible.  Sometimes wiping off wet paint to use the white canvas to highlight something (as in the case of the flowers to the right, and the wisps of wheat strands extending up and out of the vase).  This is also the messiest stage as I become oblivious to paint transferring to my hands as a rag is used to wipe these areas.  Or, yes my fingers too.  (not recommended!).





Now with the canvas completely covered, the values get more attention.  Here we go.  This is like turbo drive.  As the values are developed the painting really begins to show itself.  Especially in developing light and shadow, and the transitions between them – a very important aspect of the aesthetic I try to convey.





More development with the flowers to the right, and also added a rough in with the flowers on the table to the left.  I usually let the painting tell me what area needs attention while attempting to work all around the canvas surface.  I don’t have a formulaic approach to painting – the painting is simply developed based on what I think makes it look better each session.  This work in progress series is over many sessions (each session is a new day).




Here is the breakout session with the full color palette.  About time don’t you think?  The background color is laid in, along with the blue in the flowers and the color in the vase.  This too is all based on intuition.  Aside from some basic color theory and the proper use of cool and warm color variations, no formula or method is used to guide the use of color.




More detail in the flowers (let’s not neglect them) and now that all the elements are coming together, I focus in on the table-top perspective.  I always intended to paint in the individual boards and decided to paint the horizon point directly above the board space below the group of 3 blue flowers. (the vertical board space).  This was done for a few reasons – it highlights the blue flowers; it shifts the viewpoint to right of center –  I knew this painting would be hung in a place where it would be mostly viewed from that viewpoint; and it creates more interest simply by not being perfectly symmetrical.   Once the board spaces were laid in, it became obvious the towel at the left needed to be reworked.  (See previous image.)  Yes I could say I’m correcting a mistake! –  but I prefer to say – “I’m developing the painting”.  But as you will see, even this correction – I mean development – will be changed again!     This is because I feel the towel shape is some-what static, and needs more interest.  As the perspective of the towel is re-worked, I begin to think more about that…  Hmmm… a lot more….



Eureka!  A needed change in the towel.  I feel this not only improves the towel, but helps to unify the whole painting.  Now to continue to paint the live edge on the front edge of the lower board on the table.  Lower front table edge (I should have said that first!).





More work with details.  Beginning with the last image, this painting may only be just barely half finished in terms of painting time.  For example, the time it takes to complete detail in one flower is longer that it took to paint the canvas initial lay-in. The live edge is another passage that takes time to paint correctly.  All that is perfectly fine though!  Painting is enjoyable so how long it takes is of no concern – I am only concerned with making it look good – to create the aesthetic I see in my head.  The striving for that aesthetic pulls me through painting development.




More details and cleaning up the background.  Yes – lots of painting time since the last image.  The wheat is more developed along with most other details.  Cleaning up the background gives a better sense of space and atmosphere.  Almost there now.





The completed painting.  Several subtle changes since the last image represent many more hours of painting time.  I wouldn’t want it any other way though.





Begun January 2018 and signed August 2018.  Framed and delivered soon there after.






Many people are curious how long it takes for a painting to be completed.  I don’t keep track of actual painting time so this is difficult to say for certain – but to me it’s never too long!  And I think you’ll find most painters will give you that same answer.  This painting was completed between January and August 2018 over many sessions.  It was not painted on every day.  Some weeks had many sessions, other weeks none.  That’s how it goes with most of my studio paintings.  I need down time to inform where I go next with the painting.  The down time ends up as important as the painting time.

If you enjoyed this work in progress I’d love to hear from you.  Send me an email : mjranucci@roadrunner.com .   Feel free to share also!


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