Bruce Kerr

My Process

First look. Then question. Then look again to see what is really there, not just what you think you see. It takes all of your senses to create a painting, from listening to the call of a Warbler in the bushes behind you, to reaching your hands into the muck at the edge of a swamp to smell its fertile, rich decay. Whether I am standing in a field doing a plein air piece or in the studio working on something that vexes me for a longer period of time, the process unfolds in a similar fashion. 


As for my actual working process, I am a draftsman first, then a
painter. As a result, for most of my pieces, I go through the basics,
such as compositional thumbnails, Notan or value studies and finally color studies. For  my studio pieces I will sometimes build a small
scale model to capture lighting and composition if my photo
reference is not sufficient. I've even been known to use a
​microscope to see what lives in the the algae at the water's edge
while researching a piece. Knowing that Daphnia and other critters
are swimming in the water can lead to some interesting insights that either end up in the final piece or lead me to a future painting. 


That being said, there are other times, when a painting comes to me in a flash, the image fully constructed in my head and it rolls off the end of my brush, the entire piece created from start to finish on a single painting surface, in one session. I love these types of paintings for their spontaneity and freedom. 


If I paint in oil, I use a glass palette, either a pochade box like OpenBox M for plein air work or if I am in the studio, an 11 x 14 piece which I toss into  a Masters Staywet box to preserve the paint between sessions. In both cases the back of the glass is painted a neutral gray against which to judge the color I am mixing. The same Staywet box gets pressed into service when painting acrylic, to keep the palette wet for days, greatly increasing the workability of the material. I will also use a drying extender for my acrylics to stretch working time, occasionally spritzing the surface to keep it wet, if the area is large enough. Though I use watercolor for sketching and working in the field, I've also accomplished detailed paintings with it as well. However, for me, it requires a bit more planning and is therefore a less spontaneous process than other mediums. 


Having worked for a while in the world of commercial illustration where I used smooth surface hot press board, I prefer surfaces with enough tooth to grab the paint, but not so much that it interferes with the final finish. As a result, I use gessoed birch panels for my smaller oil pieces, preferring canvas glued to panel or tightly stretched and smoothly finished canvas for larger pieces. Otherwise, paper taped to board or simply a sketchbook, is used for my watercolor or pencil work.


For more about my process and current work follow the link at the top of the page to Kerrview.blogspot.com.