Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Anatomy of a Painting

Recently I was selected to be a part of an exhibition that combines my love of history and passion for painting. "Warrenville Inspired" is hosted by the Warrenville Historical Society and brings together 20 diverse artists to create pieces based on the history of Warrenville and/or the artifacts in the museum. For this exhibit, I have about 6 weeks to create a painting from concept to completion, which is not much time for me. Since I have to work so quickly, it is important that I follow my process very closely, which makes it the perfect time to record that process. So here is the step by step process of how I make a painting.

Step one: The Concept
For this exhibit, the artists were all invited to the Warrenville city museum to chose artifacts from which to take their inspiration. My inspiration came from the museum's exhibits of family life: a parlor set from the Warren family, the city's founding family, as well as the myriad of personal items on display, including a lovely white dress, and a beautiful drawing of an enigmatic young woman with black hair. My concept is a moment in between. The passage of time and the growth of people, the small moments, the in between moments that are forgotten the next day, but that create our lives and so create history.

Step two: Initial Drawing
As I begin to clarify my concept, the questions I ask myself begin to shape the direction of the painting. What story do I want to tell? What mood or feeling do I want to convey? The answers will help me decide on the subject of the painting as well as things like value and tonal range that will create the emotion. Then I begin to reach into particulars of subject, pose, and lighting and doing so I make a number of thumbnail sketches. Usually 6-10 before I hit on one that suits what I want to convey. These are small sketches done in pencil in my sketchbook, that help me decide on the composition.

Step Two: The Poster Study
Once I have decided on the composition, I hire a model and costume and pose them to fit the composition. I make more drawings and color studies (mini paintings focused on the patterning of light and patches of color). I also take a lot of photographs if I won't be able to work with the model later. Then I begin to work out the next steps, still focused on my concept. What will the light look like? What color and tones convey the feeling I want? I make a small (8x10), full color painting of the composition.

Step Three: The Full Size Drawing
Here I make a finished drawing in charcoal on paper of exactly what I want the painting to look like, to the exact size. In this case, the drawing is 22x28. Here I try to solve all of the problems I can with regards to proportion, line, and overall composition.

Step Four: The transfer
Once the drawing is done I transfer it to the panel. I always paint on high grade oil primed linen that is fixed to a wood board. It is expensive but worth it. I lay a piece of tissue paper over the drawing, tracing the large shapes. I don't trace the small detail because they won't read through the paper. Then I flip the tissue paper over and trace it with soft charcoal. Then I flip it back to the right side, lay it over the board and trace it again with a ball point pen, pressing hard enough to transfer the charcoal lines, but not hard enough to mar the canvas. At this point I use a small brush and a bottle of India ink inking it in and adding all of the small details in.

Step Five: The Underpainting
Next I wash over the entire board in raw umber thinned with turpentine, which helps give the painting a cohesive tonal effect, and makes it easier to judge value.

Then I wipe out the lights with a paper towel.

Next I darken the darks with more raw umber. This results in a complete value drawing, which acts as the underpainting. This step is important so that as I start the painting, I have all the values worked out so I can simply focus on color. The real advantage to working with a process is that it simplifies what you're working on, so you can focus on one thing at a time. First the drawing, where the only concern is shape and proportion and line, then in the underpainting you focus on value and finally when it's time to lay in the color, you can be sure that the drawing and the values are accurate so the focus is entirely on color.

Step Six: The Block-in
Here is where the color comes in. In full bodied paint, not thinned with anything, I begin to lay down the color. I work with a limited palette of Ivory Black, a mixture of Flake White and Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red,Ultramarine Blue, and Raw Umber. I begin to paint, section by section until the entire canvas is covered.

The last and final step is the finish. Here I gradually build up detail, mixing a medium of linseed oil and turpentine into my paint until I am satisfied with my finish, and the painting is done.

1 comment:

02Lei said...

I like your tutorials and the way that you show the progress of your artwork in stages. I think it's pretty cool :D I'll have to keep an eye out for your future paintings.