M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Monday, May 17, 2010

Painting Waterfalls No. 1

The subject in a state park on the border of Massachusetts and New York.

Step 1: The major shapes blocked in in shades of purple and gray

Step 2: Adding a poster-like display of the local colors.

The completed painting: Bash Bish Falls in May, oil, 14 x 11.

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I've started painting a series of waterfalls because there is something so appealing about the subject, and because I want a more romantic, atmospheric look to the finished paintings I'm softening edges before the paint dries. I'll add hard edges as I get close to finishing the paintings while leaving some areas soft and gestured. I'm adding linseed oil to the paint mixtures to slow the drying time and therefore allow me to blend the edges after I've blocked in the major shapes.
I did a plein air sketch at one of the most popular waterfalls in the region, Bash Bish Falls, a natural phenomenon on the border of Massachusetts and New York that was drawn and painted dozens of times by the likes of John F. Kensett. I mixed M. Graham's walnut alkyd medium into the oil colors because it is a high-gloss medium that dries more slowly than other alkyd mediums. I wanted to be able to blend the oil colors throughout the painting process and mediums like Galkyd would have caused the paint to dry too quickly. I finished the sketch in about 90 minutes and took photographs I can use to develop a larger studio painting of the scene.
I'm also working on waterfall paintings in my studio that are based on photographs I took in Hawaii and at the New York Botanical Gardens. I'll post those when they are finished.


  1. I love this plein aire work. I especially like how you mixed some green colors into the rocks-showing moss and algae. Capturing the moment-that’s what it’s all about, nice work.
    Have a good day.

  2. I like your initial approach to blocking in. I have found a couple of annoyingly effective tricks- I hate to copy myself!- in handling the water. If you use a fast-drying medium for the underpainting tone, that should be dry enough to support a wet glaze of clear medium towards the end of the painting. Into this, using the edge of a palette knife, you can etch in those razor sharp white verticals of water. The same technique can be used for specific details at the foot of the falls. Underpainting white is good for impasto use in
    water, and, slick as it may sound, a flick or two of white off the end of a bristle brush is a good way to complicate a brushstroke indicating spray. Although my technique has moved far from painstaking realism, I still use all this stuff.

    here's examples-


  3. Wonderful, thanks for sharing the proccess. I really like stage 2