My friend Renee before her trip to France. Graphite on canvas paper. Please forgive the weird shadows-I took the photograph in my bedroom with poor lighting.
My process for painting has changed a bit. Here are the steps I use:
1. Thumbnails, thumbnails, thumbnails. I write everything down. It helps me figure out which ideas are worth pursuing, and which aren’t. A majority of my thumbnails never make it to paintings anymore. I don’t know why I fought this method for so long-but it helps save wasted time and paint.
2. Photo shoot-lately I’ve realized how important it is to plan photo shoots well. Finding models who aren’t awkward in front of cameras for starters has helped me tremendously.
3. Mock up on photoshop. I use photoshop mostly to see what’s happening with the design of the painting and to remove or add things to make it look better and more complete. I also use it for larger paintings to place grids over top so I don’t get overwhelmed with information. This process has allowed me to expand from just portraiture or figures, to more complex compositions. Consequently I’ve been able to use my imagination more.
4. Finished graphite drawing. This helps me with a few things. In painting I am usually trying to figure out where edges disappear into shadow and light and where they are useful and help the composition. I take a few days to a week to finish the drawings. It prevents me from jumping ahead and painting before I’m ready. It also helps me problem solve because I’m working with a “limited palette”-graphite only. I use this time to consider what colors I will choose for my palette, and helps me understand value, contrast, etc. That way I’m not wrestling with it once I start painting. Areas of the drawing that appear stiff or distorted will only get worse with painting, so I do most of my problem solving with stiffness or awkward areas during this time.
5. I go over critical areas of the drawing with a fine ink pen, so I don’t get lost once the graphite starts moving around when I paint. This is just in case I get confused.
6. I choose my palette and do some premixing. Then I paint. Truth be told, I’m still really bad at premixing correctly, I think it’s just going to take me some time to get used to. But I stick with a fairly limited palette and expand my colors at the end if necessary.
Additionally, I have one image printed with the graph right next to the painting, and one image on my computer I can zoom in on if I’m confused about a particular area of the photograph. I try to get as many angles of the face as possible in my photo shoot and remember that the person I’m painting has flesh and bone and is three dimensional, and not the flat image that is presented in the photograph. Even with good cameras photographs are deceiving.
I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Greg Manchess, which gave me a serious butt kicking when I was tearing my hair out with self doubt and refusing to plan my paintings because I wanted quantity over quality. The gist of it is this: beautiful work is planned to a painful degree. But you should read it, because his wording is much better than mine. And then check out his work.
"…But planned to a great degree. Huge degree. Complex paintings need to be planned and planned. That’s kinda obvious. You can do stream-of-consciousness paintings, and that’s valid too, I think. But the best of those come out of a long bunch of years painting.
Design paintings. Plan them to be spontaneous. I do that, too. In fact it recently took a few days before I could start painting the current piece I’m working on because I didn’t have it completely painted in my head yet.
But practicing, rehearsal, like that will give you the skills to do things spontaneously that will surprise you. It is like anything else. A musician practices. Why is that artists aren’t allowed?
There are a wide range of painting approaches. But if you are beginning to paint seriously, and by that I mean earn a living by it, then planning is critical, and planning will develop your skills faster than those who refuse to understand that skills are built, and then owned. Not given.”
Many thanks to my friend Caitlyn Rooke for patiently explaining the steps of this process to me over time and looking through my work.