Painting Workshop with Doug Swinton

Oil painting by Tania Nault of the foothills in winter.

Foothills in Winter. Oil on canvas 6 x 12 inches. © 2016, Tania Nault.









I just finished a thoroughly enjoyable two-day landscape painting workshop taught by artist Doug Swinton. Doug is from Calgary, Alberta and has spent years sketching and painting Alberta’s foothills region and the Canadian Rockies. His connection to the outdoors is evident in both his work and in his instruction.

Doug’s approach at the start of each painting is to take a few moments to consider five core elements and incorporate these elements into a quick sketch in paint directly on the canvas:

  1. Motive: What are you trying to say?
  2. Center of interest: In relationship to the foreground, mid-ground, and background, what is your center of interest and does it help to communicate your motive?
  3. Value: Block your scene into large, medium, and small blocks of light and shadow.
  4. Direction of light: Take note of where the highlights and deepest shadows fall.
  5. Colour temperature: Is the colour in your blocks of light and shadow warm or cool?

But after these few moments of calm, Doug’s personal painting style is very physical: He seems to “attack” areas of the canvas with bold strokes of thick paint. And as we painted, he continually urged us to move more quickly to capture the moment and overall scene.

It’s hard to condense such a fun, informative, intense workshop into one blog post, but here are a few “Doug-isms” from the weekend:

  • “the most amount of information in the least amount of brushstrokes”
  • “value does all the work; colour gets all the credit”
  • when asked about what variety of tree he was painting in his demo, “be curious, sure, but don’t get bogged down with details; unless you’re a botanical artist, all trees are either ‘pointy trees’ or ‘bouffante trees'”

I think Doug’s points about moving quickly to capture the scene and not getting bogged down with the details are the most relevant to me personally at this stage of my development as a painter – and will likely be the hardest for me to incorporate into my work (because I love research and all it’s delicious tangents!).

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