The Painting Process

When you paint a painting there are stages you should go through in order to give yourself the best chance of creating a terrific work of art. I believe that we should become more involved with our paintings. If the design or subject matter was worth the effort to begin with then we should give it our best efforts. A underlying reason or desire to paint a particular painting shouldn’t fade just because we botch the job. Keep painting the work with refinements and changes until it is as close to your intention as possible. Remember it is the artists job to express in creative terms their excitement and involvement with the subject matter.

The following is the working plan I use to paint my paintings.

The Why! What is my reason for painting this painting. It should be something, even if it is just wanting to see what heavy pure pigments will do on top of very wet paper. Having a reason that I can articulate is very important to my staying focused on the work. An example of a reason could be that I am trying to interpret this scene as a overcast day, late in the afternoon. Sometimes my approach to the painting is driven by my desire to play with a unique design scheme. I might decide to eliminate all of the background details and group all of pieces of subject matter into one big shape and play it against a lighter value. Almost without exception my reason for approaching a painting is to develop a design concept rather than to paint a specific piece of the landscape in a factual manner.

Planning Stages:

The Design Pattern or a value organization sketch is created and this serves as the road map for the painting. At this point I am not making a detailed drawing of the subject but rather I am organizing the major shapes in my painting into value groups. I am thinking about where my focus is going to be, how good are my major shapes, are the major pieces of the desired “unequal size”, and what elements am I going to use to support my story. I can use strong value. dramatic color contrasts, texture, or line or other elements. It is not important which you are going to use but it is important that you know which ones you intend to employ and how they are going to work in relationship to other possible contrast in your repertoire.

Establish an agenda for the painting. At this point I mentally run through the steps I anticipate using in my painting. Am I going to use wet on wet glazes, wet on dry glazes, paint directly using dry pigment on wet washes, wet washes on dry paper or a combination of approaches. I want a clear understanding of the color temperatures of my washes, and the sequences of the washes I am going to use. I need to resolve before I start which shapes are painted first and how these shapes will impact upon other related shapes. I want to think about problem areas such as how to get the glisten on the water or lift out the lights on the side of the building. During this step I make my decision on the type of paper I am going to use. Each paper has a unique surface and will affect the painting, I also think of my color palette and the types of colors I am going to use: opaque, staining, or easily lifted colors. The more I anticipate potential problems the less the problems will adversely impact on the painting.

Application of paint. Pretty easy stuff here if I have really given the planning stages the necessary amount of consideration. Might I say sometimes I don’t and the results are random and unpredictable. I work really hard at guaranteeing that the surface of the paper is consistently wet and doesn’t have pools of water sitting all over it. I keep moving damp wide brush over the paper’s surface until it is uniformly damp. During the painting process I usually work beginning with a wet series of washes and gradually reduce the amount of water in my brush as I progress. The secret of water color is knowing and controlling the relationship of the amount of water in the brush to the amount of water on the paper. I continuously question the colors mixtures, the dampness of my brush, the types of marks I am making, and the amount of variety I am employing in my choices. I look to create unity in my washes by having a dominant color, but I guard against too many boring repeats by varying the color mixtures slightly every time I touch the paper. I try not to go very far on the paper with the same brushload of paint. I want to be continuously recharging my brush with fresh color. I look around the painting trying to adjust the edges of shapes for variety, and to make sure I am not repeating the same brush strokes too many times. I work from big to small, soft to hard, general to specific. I will always sacrifice a detail if it isn’t necessary to tell the story I am telling. When I begin to ask too many question about why I am doing something, I slow down and become more thoughtful. If you don’t know what to do then don’t do anything. Try not to think with your brush on the paper. Mindless doodling will most often ruin the integrity of the shapes of your painting. Now it is probably a good time to stop.

Step Back and Analyze. At this point in the process I have all the major washes down, most of my major shapes are established and I have put in some necessary details, and I really need to catch my breath. I will put the painting up across the room and look at it from a distance. I try and figure out where I need to make adjustments and refinements to the major shapes. I look for edges that need to be corrected, value shapes that don’t read as intended, colors that are either to strong or too weak to make the intended statement, a lack of focus, or a confused message. A great trick is to turn your back to the painting and close your eyes. Turn around and open your eyes. If the first thing you notice is totally different from your center of interest than you probably have a design problem.

Add refinements and make adjustments. After I have given the painting a thorough going over I make the necessary changes. I steel myself against the fear of messing up an okay painting. Changes that you try may mess up the work but if you leave it without trying to make the corrections it will never be a great painting. Fear of ruining an okay but not stellar painting is natural but don’t let it keep you from trying. If it is only 70% of what you want it won’t improve to 100% on its’ own. A painting is not a fine wine it will not improve while hidden away in a closet. You must take the chance and because from my experience within a couple of years it will even be less acceptable. As your skills improve the less than successful paintings of the past are even less acceptable, so give up the fear and risk failure to taste the occasional glorious success.

Critique my own painting. This activity is vital to my growth as an artist. How well does my work measure up. I learned to critique by doing it. I went to art galleries and analyzed the work but I kept my opinions to myself. Nobody in the gallery is interested in our appraisal of their artists’ work. You should learn design in order to critique paintings. A simple it doesn’t work or I don’t like it will not get you very far. It is of much greater worth to understand the principles and elements of design so they become tools for not only pre-planning a new work but also analyzing a work in progress.

Re-plan and then repaint the work. After a thorough critique and I re-plan the painting with it in mind. I try to not make the same mistakes twice. I then begin the entire process again and hope for a lot of creative inspiration mixed with artistic craftsmanship.

Repaint the painting.


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