Landscape Commission: My First Triptych!

In November of last year (2019) I met a guy named Matt who had just purchased an apartment here in Puerto Vallarta, and he was looking for the right artist to fill his new place with art. He saw my work and liked it, but didn’t want male nudes for the place, because he was planning to rent it out as well as live in it part-time. He wanted landscapes!

I’ve never been known for my landscapes, but in the past few years I’ve been working on my landscape skills and I felt ready for this commission.

But it was going to be a challenge, and the first part of it would be the biggest and most difficult part—a triptych (a painting on 3 separate panels), which would be the first art people would see upon entering the apartment. Each of the 3 panels would be 3 feet wide and 4.5 feet tall. 

Matt and I worked together to choose a source photograph from my archives that we both liked. He wanted a Puerto Vallarta landscape, but with no evidence of human habitation. We finally agreed upon a photograph (above). Then I worked on it in Photoshop to remove all the buildings, people, etc., and replace them with raw landscape elements (below).

Then began the real work. I started with a lot of preparatory drawings, and then, after several days of that, I started doing landscape studies. I did 4 different paintings, each one more finished, before I was ready to tackle the final painting(s).

Above are two of the many pencil sketches I did to prepare for the triptych. After I got the compositional problems worked out, I began doing acrylic sketches (below).

Above are two of the rough drafts, or “rehearsal” paintings I did as part of my preparation to tackle the final work. These rough drafts are useful for working out how you’re going to approach different parts of the painting, and how you’re going to make it all work together.

When I finally reached the stage where I was ready to tackle the actual 3-panel painting, I was really grateful for my spacious studio. It’s big enough for me to put all 3 panels up at the same time, which was absolutely essential to make this project work.

Above is how my studio looked after I’d cut the canvas pieces and tacked them up so that I could lay out the painting’s main shapes in pencil (I still wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the sky).

Above, I’ve put an acrylic wash over everything, then started painting in some of the basic shapes. As you can see, I decided on an approach for the sky.

Above, I’m now several days into the final painting, and it’s starting to take shape. There’s still a long ways to go, but I’m pleased with how it’s going–the colors and the composition seem to be working.

Above, this is about a week into the painting. I’ve got the trees and shoreline and rocks pretty much in place.

Above, a shot of me in the studio working on the triptych. When painting, it’s always a good idea to frequently step far back from the painting to get an idea of how it’s working as a whole. With this huge work, I had to really discipline myself to follow the John Singer Sargent approach: that is, stand far, far back from the painting, decide where the next brushstroke will go, then walk back to the painting, apply the stroke, and then walk back to the other end of the room again to see if it worked or not. I got a lot of exercise during the process of painting this work!

Above, I’ve finally got the sky done, and I like how it’s turning out. I’m in the home stretch now–just need to finish the water.

Above, I’ve done the water, and the painting is basically done. At this point it was time to show it to Matt, and I was very pleased with what I’d done, but of course still a bit nervous about showing it to the client!

I’m happy to report that he loved it immediately! Below, Matt and I at the framer’s with the left-hand panel of the triptych, and below that, the triptych in Matt’s apartment, ready to be hung.

Painting this triptych was a big challenge and one I enjoyed a lot–well, most of the time! There were moments when I felt overwhelmed, but I was able to just focus on the next step, the next step, the next step, and ended up with something that pleased both myself and the client.

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