Shape by Shape: The Freedom of Painting without a Sketch

This summer I got on a painting roll. During my stay at our Blue Moon Ranch in Central California, I started experimenting with a new way to paint. I had recently purchased a sample pack of 5x7-inch sanded Ampersand pastel boards at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) biannual convention in Albuquerque. Armed with these small surfaces, I set out to paint. Inspired by the demonstrators at IAPS, including Carole Katchen, Donna Yaeger and Marla Baggetta, I wanted to just dive in and paint freely. They had encouraged me to experiment and not be afraid to fail. So this time I abandoned my usual first step--the sketch. Instead, I boldly jumped in with a blocking technique to add one shape after another and feel my way through the painting. Voila! It was such a liberating feeling! Forgetting about what subject matter I was seeing, I simply observed lights and darks, warm and cool colors, and positive and negative space. Suddenly the image began to emerge, and it looked fresh and exciting. It took nearly eight years of pastel painting to develop the confidence to do this. Here are the first three paintings I did, quickly and simply.  

Prancer, 5x7

Papa Rooster, 7x5

Ranch Hands, 5x7

Next, I wanted to take this technique to the next level, by using a larger surface size and more complex subjects. On my trip to Springfield, Illinois to visit my parents, I challenged myself to see what would happen. Still, without sketching a single line, I blocked in shapes with the pastels, one at a time. Here are the paintings I completed there. The first one is on a multimedia pastel panel and the other two on the Ampersand board.  


Watching Over the Brood, 9x12

Sunrise, Lake Springfield, 11x14

Romping Around, 11x14

The last one, a painting of my Arabian horse, Gracie, was the most difficult, as I needed to capture the anatomy of a horse and her movement through the space toward me, all without sketching.  I started with her face and blocked in from there, making a few spatial marks in the foreground and background for reference.    

Blocking in the painting of Gracie.

I hope you enjoy these paintings as much as I enjoyed the process. Now I feel ready to start painting everything in sight! This fall I will take on a "30 Paintings in 30 Days" challenge, so look out! Artist Leslie Saeta is sponsoring the challenge, beginning August 30. Check it out at 

By the way, If you are interested in any of these paintings, they are all available for purchase. Please contact me through my website.  Thank you!