Process Talk with Kathryn Stats

by Paint Tube 3 Minutes

Process Talk with Kathryn Stats

Kathryn Stats (see her videos here) has developed a keen eye for the landscape and nature. She wandered the Utah countryside on her horse until her early 20s, then studied with artists in the Salt Lake City area for 20 years. 

Kathryn started out by painting the familiar rural landscapes of her childhood, but, curious about new subject matter, she began to make road trips to southern Utah, becoming more and more enthralled with the powerful red rock formations.


I paint en plein air. Plein air painting allows me to be out of doors, observing nature up close and in person as the light changes and shifts. Things start happening that you would not have seen had you not been sitting there killing time. 

I say “killing time” as a tongue-in-cheek reference to wasting time, which it certainly is not when you are a painter. It more or less justifies itself; you are putting down color notes and working out your composition. I’m trying to describe something with paint, which is what draws me to paint in the first place. When I am on location, I often think I am the luckiest person on earth to be out there watching and observing the light, and putting down a bit of paint while I’m at it.

My process has several steps I work through most every time.

First, I find subject matter that is interesting. I ask myself why it has appeal. “Well, I just love it” is not an answer. I have to work out the nuts and bolts of pattern, shapes, contrast, mood, focal point, design, etc.



Once I have my subject and know why I want to paint it, next comes drawing. I do a few thumbnail sketches to find the best composition. This is where I work out the plan. It is easier to do measurements from the sketch than to take them directly from the distant natural setting. 

After drawing, I plan three to six large shapes that vary in value – like puzzle pieces. I work from dark to light, starting with the darkest tones, including shadows. This should be the skeleton of the composition. 

I proceed to work on subtleties and variations to tie the piece together, remembering to not break up a value pattern by introducing big value changes. It is better to change color within a value mass than to disrupt the mass itself. This leads to stronger form.

I am always planning the path the eye should follow in the painting. 

Finally, I highlight or darken patterns to accentuate shapes and important areas where I want the eye to go. I like to think of it as hanging the jewelry to finish up. 

When painting on location, I first forgive myself for not having a lovely, finished piece of work.



I find that doing a few thumbnail sketches first is quite settling. This also allows me to make measurement marks on the sketch to use when doing the real painting. Following the sketch is easier than having to constantly measure from nature to my canvas.

As soon as I find my painting slipping backward, I quit. 

My purpose in plein air painting is to work on material I am having trouble with. For example, a few months ago, when I had just returned from painting in New Mexico, I found it very challenging to paint warm saturated or high-key colors in shadow. 

I concentrated on just that problem, trying different approaches at different times of day to nail that down. I learned more than I would have just trying to get a finished painting. I did a lot of half-finished pieces, but they are good references for future work.