Design Sketches for Palisade Memories

Click image for a larger, clearer view
Watercolor and acrylic on paper
(9x12" Stillman & Birn Beta Wirebound sketchbook)

This sheet of sketches was done to work out the major issues for an 8x16" painting of the Hudson River and Palisades. When I'm out painting on location, I don't usually have the time to plan to this degree. In my studio, however, time is on my side. I'm not having to drive long distances to locations and then try to make time stand still while the sun races across the sky and shadows change. Going through these planning stages yields a better painting in terms of composition, color, and overall design.

I began with the four tiny thumbnail sketches at the bottom of the page. Each is 1x2". I did them with black ink and a fountain pen, trying different places for the horizon, and scoping out where I wanted the boats to go. I sketched in a barge and tug for these thumbnails, but in doing so, I decided they detracted too much from the Palisades, which I wanted to keep as the main point of interest. When I went to do the larger study, I put in a small fleet of sailboats instead. They provide interest and break up the horizon line without stealing the show. Once I finished deciding what would go where, I pulled out some watercolors and played with color on the thumbnails. Then I did the larger study in acrylic, which would also be my medium for the finished painting.

Although I'd gone through all these stages, I still wasn't completely satisfied. I decided that when it came time to do the final painting, I'd shorten the foreground space so that the water and cliffs wouldn't mirror each other as much. I also wanted to scale back the tree on the left, so that it would break the horizon line, but not extend beyond the upper edge of the cliffs. You can click here to see the finished painting I did, based on this series of sketches.


  1. It's nice to see your thought process on a piece. Thanks!!

  2. This is an excellent little study.... very helpful to read about your process & thoughts as you worked through planning your composition and final results. Excellent job, Jamie! <3