Joy Appenzeller Bauer, the Location Portrait Artist

Unlike acrylic, pastels, and watercolor, oil paint is mixed with several media used to either thin or thicken the flow (mineral spirits, linseed oil, walnut oil, etc.). Like John Singer Sargent, I especially like to play with sheen and silken textures against rough, drier ones.

As opposed to impressionist paintings, realist paintings must accurately convey the subject. This is especially important when drawing well-known monuments and architecture (a wavy building just won't look right unless you're trying to make a surreal statement). Consequently, realism takes much longer to execute and requires a still model or reference. In order to make architectural lines perfectly straight, the paint underneath usually needs to be dry and therefore can't be done "alla prima" or wet-in-wet all in one sitting.

I hardly go anywhere anymore without my camera, as I am always on the look out for a new scene and try to take a range of weather affects. I take several pictures of the place I may someday want to paint and often come back to the reference photos years later. I also paint "en plein air" often with the Plein Air Painters of Chicago outside in old-fashioned multiple day paint outs so that the underpainting can dry. Please have a look at this Facebook post to see a day in the week of plein air painting or following me on Instagram to see work in progress plein air paintings.

My cityscapes normally take 2-6 weeks to complete. Here's a step-by-step illustration of my process.



Step 1Step 1: Sky
Paint time: 2 hours
Dry time: 3-4 days, as lots of cold-pressed linseed oil to make sky smooth





First, I paint the clouds and sky and often paint several canvases in one day if they are meant to be part of a series.



Step 2   Second, I draw the main buildings and establish the horizon. This second step is the most critical. Altough I do use a t-square and various straight-edges, I don't use a projector or any electronic aids, so I often mess up and have to redraw the scene several times. When it comes to a skyline - the buildings must be scaled correctly and in accurate perspective or there is no point in continuing.  
Step 2: Sketch
Paint time: 2-6 hours depending on complexity
Dry time: 1 day. I normally use a rather thin paint with either a warm or cool muted color like Payne's Grey or Raw Umber so that I can start color-blocking the next day.
Step 3   Third, I either color-block the whole scene or jump in on the building detail starting in the upper left-hand corner. In this case, I did a bit of both. I had a pretty good idea of how the overall lights and darks were going to work so didn't need to block the whole canvas - I just focused on the buildings which would be behind trees, people, and smoke.  
Step 3: Color-blocking
Paint time: 8-24 hours depending on complexity.This photo was actually from day 2. I had first color-blocked the buildings before adding the window detail.
Dry time: 2 days
Step 4   Next, I continue painting details from the upper left to lower right. As this photo shows, I added more middle ground details like the lamp posts and smoke and also "under-painted" the street.  
Step 4: More Detail and Color-blocking
Paint time: 8-24 hours depending on complexity.
Dry time: 1-2 days
Step 5   Next, I plan the foreground. In this case, I drew the main foreground people and started to think about accent color - what each person would be wearing.  
Step 5: Drawing the Foreground
Paint time: 2-6 hours depending on complexity.
Dry time: 1 day
Step 6   Almost done, I start working on the foreground detail. At this point, I can get a sense of whether or not I need to make corrections and ghost something back/push it forward. Near completion is the fun part!  
Step 6: Continuing the detail
Paint time: 8-24 hours depending on complexity.
Dry time: 2 days
Step 7   Finished! As I complete a painting, I finish the detail in the lower right-hand corner and go back and add quality to certain sections that may appear sloppy or less congruent. I also paint the canvas edges (known as gallery-wrapping).  
Step 7: Nit pick and prepare for gallery
Paint time: 8-24 hours depending on complexity.
Dry time: 1 week