Follow my art adventures by email

Subscribe for email notifications of new blog posts

Subscribe to receive email notifications of blog posts

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Creative Process - Apple Couple

This post is inspired by a recent interview with Edward Dougherty, poet, writer and professor at Corning Community College. For his sabbatical project on creativity, Edward is interviewing artists from different disciplines about the creative process. What goes on in their minds while creating? (You can check out Edward's work here:

Edward visited me in my studio to observe and ask questions about how I start a painting. I am comfortable working and talking simultaneously. I do a lot of it while teaching, but I still sometimes find it hard to put what goes on in my brain into words. Painting is a visual medium, and I sometimes struggle to translate those visual ideas into words. I'd rather let the painting do the communicating. Edward did an excellent job of asking me questions as we worked. This blog post is mostly about the technical part of my creative process. I'll leave the creative writing up to Edward and will let you know the end results of his sabbatical project.

While thinking and talking about how I work, I realized that I like routines. I have my set studio hours and they are sacred to me. I usually paint for about 5 hours in the afternoon when the light in my studio is best. I often have a few paintings in various stages of completion, which allows me some flexibility about what I "feel" like working on that day. I'm also a seasonal painter. I prefer to start painting from life, which means that I paint what's in season. The apples in the painting featured here were picked at a local orchard back in September. It's amazing how long fruit will keep if you pick it fresh.

I usually start a still life painting from life with the subject there in front of me. I paint from life for a long as possible, but also have photographs handy for finishing touches. My favorite part of this process is setting up a new still life. This is when the possibilities are endless and I haven't ruined anything yet.

My first steps are to visualize the composition and begin with a rough sketch in the basic colors. I use oil paint mixed with Liquin™ to thin out the paint so that it flows more easily.
Sketching with the brush

The main purpose at this stage is to get rid of the glaring white of this multimedia board. I'm establishing the larger shapes and thinking about the negative spaces in between the objects. Even though it's a representational painting, the abstract shapes in the composition must be interesting.

I began this still life thinking that if I placed the apples up high in the space of the board it would give them more importance—more personality. But, as I started to fill in the first layers of paint for the background, I realized it wasn't working. There's a major problem with the composition—I've left too much space at the bottom. I either need to make the wooden crate very interesting or add something else to the still life setup.

Rethinking the composition
Here I am explaining my dilemma to Edward. I'm thinking about what I can do to make that space more interesting, trying to visualize additions to the setup.
Still thinking

I decided to add another branch hanging down around the apple couple. Here's the new composition:

Then I got back to work filling in the rest of the browns around the apples. These are just the first coats of paint, so I'm basically getting rid of the white and setting up for future layers of paint.

Continuing to "block in" the colors

Many painting hours later, I have a composition that I'm happy with, so I start the more detailed work on each apple and all those leaves.

Flash forward to almost done:

Making progress, but there's still a lot to work on.
Here's the finished painting and still life set up in the background:

Finished painting with still life

"Apple Couple" 14x11" oil on board by Bridget Bossart van Otterloo
Thank you for your interest in my work and the creative process.

Happy painting,

See more of my work on my website:
Follow me on Facebook (@BossartvanOtterloo) and Instagram (@bbvo_studio).


  1. I enjoyed this post. While reading I was transported to your studio, such fun! Thank you Bridget.

  2. Timely posting, since I'm struggling with new ways to start a painting. (New ways, to ME, anyway). :-) Love the idea of the branch curving down as your solution to the composition problem. :-)

    1. Thanks Doris Jean. I'm so glad you are getting back into painting! Enjoy the process :)

  3. Bridget, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Not being an artist myself, I found it illuminating. I, of course, compared it to the writing of a poem. Quite similar in ways. Thanks.

    1. Thank you, Michael. Yes, us creative people have a lot in common!