Glow, Energy, Textures: "GET" Extraordinary Paintings By Bill Davidson

by Paint Tube 4 Minutes

Glow, Energy, Textures: "GET" Extraordinary Paintings By Bill Davidson

This week Bill Davidson (How to Paint Glowing Landscapes) shares the thinking behind his beautiful work. First he discusses general ideas, then he walks you through a step-by-step. 

Glow brings a painting to life. If you can achieve glow in your work, it’s the simplest way to make your painting extraordinary. And if you want to achieve glow, it starts with your mindset. Approach your paintings in a positive state, without fear. Look past mistakes to find the  opportunities to reach the extraordinary. Think tonals.


Energy is the magic of exciting, loose brushwork. But don’t confuse this with sloppy brushwork. Energy comes from getting into the flow and allowing for happy accidents. Energy also comes from creating exciting edge work in all areas of a painting. This energy attracts viewers to the painting — think Sargent and Frank Tenney Johnson.

Textures provide interest all over the painting. They create depth and give a tactile feel. Gallery owners will often look closely at a painting, seeking a variety of colors and depths in the textures. That variety eliminates areas with a flat look, and provides a deeper experience throughout the painting as layers of colors and temperatures cause the painting to scintillate. Think Monet.



Design, great shapes, values, and color harmony are the pillars, of course, yet the excitement is interwoven and the extraordinary is in the words above: “GET” extraordinary. The absolute best way to learn is in live workshops, but there is also the plein air study of nature, or watching DVDs, which allows one to see and review the entire process.

With shots of work in progress, I will show how to quickly accomplish a glowing, magical atmosphere in paintings. These kinds of pictures can be incredibly helpful because you can see the choices an artist makes. I’ve also found “half-shots” helpful, as they show the experimentation and the opportunities the artist had during a painting. They also show the failures the artist ran into and then, most importantly, the paths to resolution. In my newsletters, I periodically send out tips and progress shots of different paintings. 


I choose my focal area before I start my painting, and I use directional lines to move the eye toward that focal area, creating other, lesser points of interest along the way. This approach simplifies design and movement, and it keeps you more accurate in your values. 

Please also note that since each piece painted is related to all the others, most established painters paint at least three passes, from very thin to thicker at the final stages. Promise yourself a reward, no matter how small, for walking through these passes. The reward helps you focus. 

I chose a reference with a large sky to relate the glow in the sky to the glow in the ground plane. The painting is 30 by 40 inches. 

Reference photo:


Chosen because of the mood and the great shapes in the clouds. I will completely make up the ground plane and relate it to the glow in the sky.


Above, I have chosen a focal area that allows me to plan the design and the flow of lines to that area. Experiment with a few colors. If you struggle with shapes, do design and values in one warm color, a tonal, so the darkest dark and lightest light are set up.


Here I’m testing a darker value in the cloud and eliminating the too-blue in the sky. I want a warmer sky and a cloud dark enough to pop in the sky’s glow.



I’m testing values, darkening the ground plane to lift the sky and keep directional lines. I’m focusing on values to create glow in the focal area. Notice how I raised the value in the sky, as opposed to darkening the clouds to get a stronger glow. I also warmed the back sky.


I’m working on the focal area first to set glow values, and I’m also really warming the sky, keeping directional lines, and setting up ground values and interesting beach and water shapes. By keeping an eye on the focal areas, you can really nail the values that create glow.



Using the Art Set Pro app on an iPad, I’m  pushing the darkness of the cloud again and setting up white water, directional lines, and shapes. This is 30 by 40 inches, so I did not want to repaint the whole cloud darker. Observe the glow.


I settled on values in the sky, giving form to clouds and pushing thicker paint into the focal area for interest. I’m trying to darken values in the wet sand and bring the glow from the sky onto the ground plane.


I created more form in the clouds. Notice that the clouds farther away from the glow are cooler. White water and close water get color and foam, and I’m beginning to add some detail and color in the brush and am adjusting values and colors in the back trees.



I’ve added more form in the clouds and more paint and subtleties in the focal area. Foreground ocean, water foam, and waves are loosely brushed. I’m working the glow between the sky and the land plane.



I’ve added thicker paint and a lighter value in the focal sun. I’m finishing the brushwork in the water and lightening areas in the top left where it got too dark and too cool, with the paint too thin. I’ve thickened the texture in the beach area and added energetic brushwork. 



I’ve lightened the focal area more and added texture. I’ve also added birds because the left side of the painting needed more interest. I’ve added a cloud to the top left to help with directional flow, and also added texture and simplified the front beach.



I sharpened a few edges in the clouds for a variety of edges and for directional flow. The beach needed to be unified and made bigger in the foreground for depth and simplification. I added really thick texture with multicolored strokes.