I got an assignment to think about my painting process, so why not go ahead and write it out. Now there is always an ideal way, and then the real way dictated by time constraints (unfortunately), but my ideal goes as follows:
1. Creating several sketches of the general subject matter
These are small sketches with preferably as different solutions as possible in terms of composition – and most importantly, with zero critique involved. If I have a more developed idea, I’ll use pencil to create slightly more understandable pictures, but when everything is still in it’s most vague stages, I prefer ink. With ink I can cover both larger areas and make small lines with essentially one tool, and I’ll be able to focus more on larger patterns rather than getting lost into values yet. At this stage I just try to do plenty and see what stands out to me. In this instance I picked out the two pictures with seated figures in the lower right corner.
As you can see, the ones presented aren’t actual composition sketches (meaning variants of a single picture). With this particular painting the final does look fairly the same, but I often do extra sketches for trying to figure out if the composition itself could be improved without losing the quality that stood out in this stage. Those are usually more detailed, and sometimes already done with the aid of reference.
2. Collecting materials
Now, I like to try and get to know what I’m painting about… Usually after that initial sketching stage I start gathering my materials. I take reference photos, sketch things related to the style/subject matter and read. If I intend to use some collage materials in the piece, I start collecting those as well. Understandably, the extent of this research varies greatly between paintings, depending on time and also the theme. Some of my paintings are quite introverted in their themes, so they require less outside research.
3. Starting the painting
After I feel the idea is fully formed enough, I prepare my canvas (I hate this part the most) and draw the outlines. I try to always have plenty of time for the work to “rest” at this point, in hopes that I’ll catch all the mistakes in the drawing before starting with painting.
If I’m not certain I can pull something off, I do test versions. The first one is a quick version I made on the computer that I printed out to work as a general guide. I had never painted this large (the figure is life-size) so it was good to have a smaller version to help me see the painting as a whole. The second one is a material test. I tried 8 different ways on how to paint the background black, and also toyed around with the newspaper, a material which I hadn’t used before.
5. Painting and collage
Yes, I’m too shy to even HAVE photos of the paintings mid-process. It’s probably good to not show anyways, because I have the bad habit of painting piece by piece. This isn’t because I’d particularly like it like that – more because I can’t use turpentine and do diluted underpaintings, but still like painting in oils. So, it’s generally easier for me, if I finish each part in one painting session.
If I use paper or some other collage material that has the risk of being destroyed by time, I try to make sure that the painting won’t be altered by any possible damage. I never paint under the paper, so depending on the picture, underneath is either the pure white canvas, or drawing that serves the same function as the paper. This way the general tonal value and effect stays the same, even if the more fragile parts were to be damaged. In a way, it’s part of the idea of the painting – the details of things we do and say don’t last forever, but history will record the general mood of the times around the creation of the painting.
If all goes well, I’ll have a painting to show off for my work!