Techniques and Tips

Inside the Process: Landscape Portrait Artists

Inside the Process: Landscape Portrait Artists

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Are you an art lover interested in finding out how landscapes, still lifes, and figurative paintings are created? Are you an artist who’d like to discover some of the techniques and processes used by your fellow painters? In both cases, we’ve got the answer! In this special article series, we take you inside the painting studios of six artists across the country, from California to Colorado to New Hampshire. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at everything from studio setups to plein-air excursions to step-by-step demonstrations. Enjoy!

In Part 1 of the series meet a landscape artist who uses layers of transparent glazing to achieve amazing depth in his paintings and a portrait painter who uses oils and palette knives to achieve an expressive and textured look in her portraits and cityscapes. Enjoy!

Pem Dunn

Pem Dunn has lived and painted in Colorado since 1984, and his artwork is a clear expression of his love for the beautiful Rocky Mountain landscape. “I was fortunate to have Joseph Dawley as my mentor,” Dunn says. Dawley, who painted in a European style similar to Rembrandt’s, taught Dunn techniques like transparent glazing, which involves applying a transparent layer of paint over another layer of paint that is thoroughly dry. Over the years, the artist developed his own unique style and process, but to this day he uses transparent glazing in all his work. “I like it because I can get more depth to all my subjects, and a kind of ‘see-through’ effect with water,” he says.

Dunn’s step-by-step process typically starts in his studio with photos from his outdoor excursions as reference material. He begins with some quick, loose sketches, often rearranging things in the photo until he knows the idea will work. Next he draws the abstract elements of the scene on the canvas with one color—usually a reddish tone—and starts to block in the composition with basic shapes and colors.

“My paintings take a bit longer to complete because I have to wait for each layer to dry before applying the next layer—and most of my paintings have at least five layers,” he explains, adding that he uses paints with a drying agent so that he can do the next layer the following day. Still, he doesn’t let this process slow him down, as he usually has multiple paintings in progress at different stages, and he can move back and forth between them.

To learn more about Pem Dunn’s artwork and creative process, visit

Nina Fabunmi

Nina Fabunmi has been creating art since her childhood in Nigeria. “My father was an architect and my mother was very artistic, so I think that rubbed off on me,” she says. In 2011 she finally answered the call to art that had never left her: She came to the U.S. to pursue her a master’s degree in fine art at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where she still lives and works today.

Fascinated by all kinds of people and cultures, portraiture quickly became her favorite subject. “My process for portraits usually involves embellishing or adding elements that exemplify something about the person—like their cultural origin, history, or passions in life,” she says. Sometimes she paints from life, other times from photos. “I prefer to paint from life, because then I can really directly study the person and make better artistic choices,” she explains.

The artist’s passion for portraiture is closely followed by cityscapes, thanks to the striking colors and reflections she often sees on rainy city nights in San Francisco. Whatever the subject of the painting, Fabunmi uses oils and palette knives—four of them, to be exact—to create her works. “I love the loose, contemporary, and textured look that I get with palette knives,” she says.

That said, she Fabunmi doesn’t limit herself in terms of subject, style, or medium. “I get restless and create whatever I feel like sometimes,” she says. “It’s all about what inspires me, and I never want to ignore my artistic inspiration again.”

To learn more about Nina Fabunmi’s artwork and creative process, visit

–Lindsay Mitchell

Upcoming Artists in this 3-Part Series:

  • Karen Burns
  • Linda Nearon
  • Lori S. Robinson
  • David Lussier

Watch the video: Painting Techniques: From Rembrandt to Vermeer (June 2022).


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