My Painting Process and tips on how to increase your chances of producing a successful work of art.

A lot of people probably assume that artists get up in the morning, rock up to their easel and start flinging paint at a canvas until they produce something they are happy with.

This may be the case for some and it can have it’s benefits. Painting Alla Prima (all at once) is a good exercise but when you are spending a lot of time and effort preparing your ground (I paint on chalk/rabbit skin glue over board which takes some time to prepare but produces a wonderful surface for oils) it is best to plan things a little, to at least increase your chances of success.

 

I have often thought about painting biblical scenes or scenes from imagination but haven’t really seen anything through to completion as of yet. My painting process will however remain the same as always. For a completely imaginative piece like this, the build up is as important as ever.

I’m always inspired by work that is purely conceptual, I think, if done well, and especially when the human figure is incorporated, it is a great achievement and demonstrates a catalogue of skills in drawing, composition, use of colour  etc..

Here are some illustrators that I enjoy looking at and help inspire me to work from imagination.

Arthur Rackham

,

 

Edmund Dulac,

Syd Mead

 

Non of these artists really need any introduction. It seems obvious at first glance that each one has a vivid idea of what they want to portray and it can be disheartening to see the finished product and wonder how on earth it could ever be achieved.

Well, firstly, nothing of this caliber just comes from an innate, birthright. In fact it is pretty obvious when you read into these illustrators work methods, that a LOT of effort goes into each piece and, certainly in the early stages of their careers before any real visual library has been developed, a lot of time is spent gathering visual reference.

I know for a fact that Syd Mead makes dozens of marker sketches to work out the costume designs, vehicles, perspective etc etc.. before progressing onto painting the pochade.

Now visual reference alone will not guarantee a good piece but it will help fill in the gaps of our imagination and give us something to ‘grab’ when we get to that stage of painting. As experience grows, the need for reference is less and less, and our observations of things around us become more acute.

 

My Painting ‘The Vision of the Beast’ started out as a doodle of a lizard while pondering what to paint and I got the idea of loosely basing a painting on the vision of John in Revelations of the 7 headed beast.

Notan

So, the first thing that I do with my idea is to work out my Notan
sketches which are the light dark arrangement.

This needs to be strong in order to grab the viewer and make the painting ‘stick’ to the canvas. I do a lot of these, or I will work on one in Photoshop and keep on pushing and pulling, erasing and moving until I am happy. I even flip the image vertically and horizontally to see it it reads in all directions, which a solid Notan arrangement should. It is so important to get this right before going into painting. You don’t want to wait until then to realise that the image just isn’t packing any visual punch.

Here is an example of one.

This was worked out in pure black and white before adding a 50/50 grey. I would advise you to do the same. Beginners should just stick to black and white until you have got a good few hours under your belt.

 

I more or less settled for this one

 

Secondly the Drawing and composition:

Now, I used to spend ages working out composition in Adobe Illustrator before doing too much drawing but I found this process just went on too long and often resulted in me going round in circles and not finishing anything.

These days I just take my best guess at the composition and begin the line work in Photoshop before playing with composition and deciding on the eventual canvas size.

This is the first rough concept idea.

I am using some references here, in fact, when I started I was just going to paint a fantasy image of a giant lizard and a woman in a sort of woodland scene.

Another point to note is that I am referring to the Notan in a separate layer so that I can later vary the weight and intensity of line and detail in the areas that are darker.

This piece was going to be mainly line work orientated with some washes over the top and, it may still. But I am toying with the idea of making it an oil painting.

Below is a great example of what I mean by referencing my Notan and actually using line-work to place it. I love this drawing by Rembrandt. That elephant in the background too!!

Rembrandt is using his deft hatching ability to simultaneously place tone and line work.

The drawing is more or less finished. Not sure what to do about the 10 horns and crowns yet, as depicted in the Bible, I may leave the crowns out.

I have placed everything succinctly on hidden construction lines that are used in the building of a dynamic rectangle as mentioned above re: composition.

This is better explained Michael Britton – here – if you are interested. This use of composition is something that every artist and illustrator should know and many of the greats (probably all of them) used a lot.

The next step is to produce a small pochade to work out my colour scheme before going for the final image. I haven’t done this yet so, stay tuned…

 

 

Fishing Boat at Dartside Quay

Fishing boat at Dartside Quay, painted on location. 4×7” Oil on Paper

I’m a sucker for a nice reflection, it’s a worth while challenge and a challenge it is, especially when the tide recedes and you are left staring at mud with only memories of the gently rippling waters edge full of light and colour from just an hour or two before.

It’s a useful skill to develop, painting alla prima and the added difficulty of water is that it moves and you have to grasp the characteristics rather than slavishly copying a distilled image. I think it makes for a much fresher and more appealing result this way.

 

When trudging in the rugged and unforgiving terrain of ol’ Blighty, in search of a spot to paint,  wild bears and poisonous snakes are always a concern, especially when standing near the treacherous waters of Galmpton Creak!…. with your back to the woods! ….

OK, I admit, my painting adventures are not really adventures at all, the quaint Dartside Quay of Galmpton in Devon is about as dangerous as a wood pigeon, but I do my best to keep things interesting.

 

It’s certainly not a bad thing to live in such an accommodating environment, who wants the added burden of having to learn survival skills – trying to put together a decent painting in under 3 hours is hard enough.  (For the uninitiated, this is about how long it takes for the light to change completely leaving you with just memories of the view you started with.)

If, and it’s often a big if, a pleasing view can be found then it’s a good start, since many a foul painting is the result of poor selection than bad technique.

Thus a view finder is very useful for honing in on the correct composition.

The next thing is to quickly and decisively block in the main light and dark pattern of your chosen view  (which, for those keen on good composition, involves painting the four edges of your chosen view, not just painting to the edges of your canvas). Once the light and dark arrangement has been set up and any excess removed I place the lights with it’s local colour. No time to plan colour composition, I’m relying on instinct here. Colour theory is best reserved for the studio, when your outdoors, you hope what you have learned comes to the fore and transfers to your brush.

I then work on the mid tones – again using the local colour, before pushing the light and dark range to the full spectrum.

There are times when a painting snaps together and comes out a real gem and there are others when things just don’t work, the painting collapses into a mess of poorly defined tonal arrangements, the colour is flat, the composition is weak. ”What is wrong with me! such childish, pathetic work! why did I even bother coming out and wasting this paint” are some of the thoughts that can creep in.

When this happens, the jaws of a hungry bear tightening around my melancholy head becomes a tempting fantasy. But it’s useful not to have these quick fixes so available to me.

It’s times like this when I find it better to just stop, scrape everything back, clean up the palette and either have another go or find another viewpoint or location.

If that doesn’t work there is always the muddy quagmire that sticks to these shores that would slowly yet surely engulf me.

Man and Elephant.

I have been spending a lot of time recently on photoshop whilst grinding through my anatomy studies. I find that my study is solidified if I make a drawing from memory at the end of my session. The result is not always anatomically accurate but it seems to steepen the learning curve if I try to draw something without any reference. (I did have to check a couple of pictures for the elephant though)

 

Digital sketch using Intuos tablet with Photoshop.
Digital sketch using Intuos tablet with Photoshop.

Commissioned Portrait completed

I took a commission from a gentleman I met in my line of work as a legal advisor. I noticed someone had already attempted his portrait and thought it was an opportune moment to offer my services. He gladly obliged and has now happily received the completed article.

 

Mr Cooper
Mr Cooper Oil on Chalk Gesso Panel

 

 

 

Great result at the Riviera Fringe Festival – Portrait Finalists Gala

Riviera fringe festival, portrait competition, portrait drawing in conte, realism,
Portrait of Helen my sister. Oil on panel.

I managed to win £250 last night at the Open Portrait Exhibition for my painting of Helen which I was very pleased about.

It was a great night too. How Steve Rawlings managed to perform his act in that heat I have no idea. I had to retreat to the shade and peer at the show through several panes of glass to stem the flow of sweat down my back and I was only holding a pint, Steve was bouncing around and throwing, balancing and juggling multiple pieces of furniture for a good hour.

I managed to brave the heat to collect my jumbo sized cheque though!

 

I’m sure I am not alone among artists when I say that I would rather hide away behind my art and never go to an event where there is a risk my name might get called and my picture taken. Its a strange experience if you are not at all good at social events.

So as it happens my name did get called and typically I am stood at the back hoping to applaud other winners and then slip away unnoticed, now I have to weave my way through tables and chairs whose lively occupants are now enthusiastically clapping and smiling kindly in my direction. Time slows down and each footstep requires careful planning to avoid tripping and headbutting a welcoming face or crushing an innocent child or a similar act of dishonour that would invoke immediate Seppuku.

My vision becomes a misty porthole in an unsteady vessel as I plot my route to the front. Large smiling heads seem to wind past me as I approach the judges whose unfamiliar faces suddenly appear as if through the peephole of my front door. In my self absorption and terror I completely ignore the Mayor Gordon Oliver and the Triton sponsors to my left. Everything in my peripheral had morphed into a Jackson Pollock and instead of composing myself I hastily retreat like a startled gazelle to the back of the room where I am more at ease.

Of course all of this probably passes unnoticed to normal people. At worst I probably appear slightly aloof but at least I can set the record straight here as if anyone gives a toss anyway.