Robbie Laird Step-by-Step: From Inspiration to Process…

by Paint Tube 4 Minutes

Robbie Laird Step-by-Step: From Inspiration to Process…

by Robbie Laird

I like to work in a variety of watermedia. My process is, of course different when I’m painting en Plein air with watercolor, than when I‘m working on a watermedia monotype, or a series of large water media paintings in my studio.

After many years of painting, I believe the most valuable initial step in my painting process is unseen and evolves over time. Unpredictably, something stops me in my tracks, and I see or think about it in a new way. This is the seed that, once planted, germinates over time to become a concept that I want to express.

Sometimes the growth of the idea is lengthy and continues to develop through a series of many paintings. Other times it is nearly instantaneous, and the concept, content, and process are clear to me almost immediately! The most important first part of my process is to be eager to paint something that is meaningful to me. It is also important to have a process that I know is tried and true for me and has brought success. I choose one of those favorite processes depending on my specific goals for a painting.


I came up with what is now a favorite process through experimentation, trial and error while I was working on a series of large watermedia paintings in my studio. I find this process works equally well for a variety of subjects and really enjoy it because it is both reliable and unpredictable. That provides me with reliable satisfaction as well as unexpected challenges that keep me interested throughout the entire painting process.


I begin by surrounding myself with my personal resources: my sketches, notes, value studies, color studies, and my digital photos; everything that I have collected about the subject or concept I’m trying to depict so that I am surrounding myself with my own sources of inspiration. Usually a series begins when I realize that I want to say more than I can in one painting. To save myself from over painting or cramming too much into one piece, I decide in the beginning this needs to be a series.

An example of using this is my series of layered paintings of trees and rocks. (See Time and Time Again, Summer Day- Above- and Perseverant Partnership #2- below)

Because this process requires layering heavy mediums that require drying time between layers it works well when I work on more than one painting at the same time. 


My initial concept was the enduring relationship between trees and rocks. Through several series that concept evolved to include the connection between abstract designs in nature and culturally created abstract designs. In this series the specific content is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees, and the Celtic Endless Knot.

Working Steps:
Substrates- Cut to selected size: 4 to 6 substrates 300# WC paper, Heavy Illustration Board, or other.

First layer- RHYTHM to give underlying unifying texture.

Using the rhythm of my subject (the forms created by the ancient trees) I apply heavy swaths and gestural marks of Gesso and heavy acrylic Golden mediums to the substrate. I repeat this on each of the prepared substrates creating a unique variation of placement and proportion for each.


Dry- usually overnight because this beginning layer is a satisfying good day’s work.

Second layer- COLOR to establish the mood/tone and unity.

I charge wet pigment into selectively wet areas, mixing colors on paper to add to the rhythmic underlying abstract design. For this, I use various watercolors, inks, and fluid or high flow acrylics.



Third layer- EMPHASIS- Placement and proportion.

With rhythm and mood established I begin the exciting challenge of selecting which of my sketches will be developed for each of the paintings. I turn the series of underpaintings in all 4 orientations and look for naturally occurring matches! Because the drawings and rhythmic marks and on the substrates have all been made by me, I am continually pleasantly surprised how they work together, and in ways I never would have achieved without allowing for the unexpected. This part is really enjoyable because I consider ideas using parts of one sketch with another sketch repositioning and playing with the information I have gathered, to create a unique piece that’s part of the whole concept. The resulting painting is never an exact replica of one of my photo images.



Fourth layer- DESIGN STRUCTURE- Develop and support design using shapes, space, and values.

After considering various possibilities, I transfer any part of my drawing to the painting and continue to strengthen the design by additional division of shapes and space. Values are planned to link passages of light and dark.


Fifth layer- A series of completion steps follows.

This includes drawing with watercolor pencils, painting with acrylics and other water- based media. As one painting needs to dry, I work on another. Until, one by one, all evolve individually and as an integral part of the development of the whole series. I love working this way because it is continually presenting me with unexpected surprises and challenges. As I finish each painting my goal is to make it as strong and unique as possible. Just by the nature of the way that I work on all of them together with the same materials and processes they are unified as a whole; a statement greater than each one is alone. I guess that satisfies my need to tell more without trying to tell it all in one painting .