This warm painting has a nice glow to it and the final finish is very close to what I was trying to achieve. For this genre of inventive paintings, I spend more time designing than actually painting, trying for a dramatic composition and overall mood that says something emotional. Eventually, I may move toward more of a strict design, even an outlined graphic approach, which I love seeing with transparent color. But for now, I enjoy doing realistic tonal images where the realism helps bring across the mood and convey a sense of believeable possibilities.
Drawing projected onto canvas
This piece was drawn out onto canvas, then fixed and then mounted onto board. Its 48" square and a good size for me to work the figure on. I always figure the size according to how big I want the important figure's face to be painted. In this case areound 5 " high. If I could, and had the time, I would do nearly every painting at least this large if not mural size. The main reason is that my paint application works better for me with larger, thicker strokes rather than using smaller brushes that don;t hold nearly enough paint or have the drawing power to cover an area efficently.
Usually I have a comp or color rough just to the side of my painting that I can quickly refer to. I make up a lot on each painting, even when I have good reference, but it helps to have a comp to look at- similar to taking notes for writing a book. On this piece, my main reference for the background was a 20 year old black and white photocopy from a garden book, circa 1920. I like old pinhole camera shots, and while I very rarely refer to outside reference, I sometimes come across an exciting image that I set aside until I find some way to incorporate it.
Painting started, upper left corner to lower right
My goal is to put a layer of wet oil directly over the entire painting that I can go back into and work the edges. This allows me to easily throw relative planes in and out of focus, if the paint remains wet and I can cover the image area quickly. Before I began to paint, I added a few drops of oil of cloves to those colors that dry much more quickly, and enough linseed oil to make a large pile of paint buttery and smooth, well mixed with a palette knife.
Once the entire surface is covered I let this dry for 2 to 3 weeks! This allows enough time for the painting to accept a faster drying overcoat that I use to finess the edges and retain the luster of a finished surface. If I painted over the slower drying underlayer with a faster drying layer too soon the top layer might dry faster and literally pull the lower layer until eventual cracking and separations form. If you study drying techniques and oil mediums you can see how the earlier artists worked, their approach and intent as far as their technique goes.
Below, you might be interested in seeing the initial lay in of the oil paint, quickly stroked or dabbed on then, to the right, the same paint layer simply dragged smoother by using a large bristle filbert that was soft enough to tug at the paint without pulling it off the canvas. In this way I can easliy control the viscosity and therfore the opacity and further setup my next thinner strokes directly into this receptive wet layer. Here, too, I can push the edges or focus where I want, preferring a slightly out of focus effect that I can more easliy sharpen up than if I left it with sharp focus (from flat strokes and a linear approach) which is much harder to force out of focus. I know if I control the focus, even minimally, I control the flow of where the viewers eyes rest and that helps force interest to the more important areas, like the Angel's face.
Rough vs smoother finessing
T-square maulstick for vertical and horizontal strokes
The image above shows my little T-Square maul stick I made to allow me to rest my arm and get closer to the wet oil for those tricky refining strokes that need just a touch of swash to refine their edge. It allows me the same freedom that you might find by painting with a water-based medium, like Acrylic, where you can lay your palm down near the area you are working, getting close to the painting. With oils- laying your hand down into wet paint obviously destroys the surface, so making a stable bridge just over the canvas surface gives me the occasional closeness I need for the details. This is just a quick T-square model I made with 2 stips of wood. The top strip has a small lip cut to keep it from falling forward and allows me to slide back and forth and get nice right angles. A traditional maulstick is fine, but I don't like holding it in my left hand where I usually have a cloth rag, like an old towell. Don't use paper towells, by the way, the paper lint invariably gets into the paint surface whereas old t-shirts, diapers or any good absorbent cloth doesn't fall apart and can hold a lot more paint.
I think I've finally learned my lesson in painting material with patterns on it in oil. Perhaps the best approach for a tonal piece is to paint the larger masses in first then refine it a little until it looks right but has no pattern details. Then leave it alone to dry! I usually try to paint right into that wet area, but its much easier to paint details over the dry surface. I know artists who even redraw with pencil or ink over the dry areas then paint into that. I am somehwere in between by freehanding the pattern with brush and opaque paint, then blocking in the pattern color and refining that. If I was after strick Photo-realism, which I sometimes do for commercial jobs, I would use every method I can think of to get the pattern just right. For my fine art, I think it actually looks better to be a little loose, even off, with the drawing as it gives it more of a personal touch and sets the mood better. I feel this is what the Pre-Raphaleittes often overlooked, allowing finicky detail to dominate a painting and loosing sight of the overall tonal effect. I think there is nothing more boring than stiff, ultra-defined rendering to achieve tight realism. Its something almost anyone can be taught to do, yet the real mood and meaning are often sacrificed. I would much rather see a great illustrated piece by someone like Dean Cornwell who was able to convey emotional scenes like stills from old movies with a bravada style, than any tight realist piece that seems to suggest the emphasis is on the technique rather than what the piece is supposed to be about. My ideal painting is deceptively realistic, convincingly so but not overworked, yet has, on closer inspection, a fluid interesting network of strokes to keep the surface interesting and non-photo like. Its paint, after all! If I can combine that idea or technique with well designed, creative and conceptual imagery then I feel I've done something I can be proud of. I don't know if I always succeed, but this is my intent.
Here is the final. Again, if you read through the demo, I let the first layer dry for around 3 weeks, working on other things. I used a medium that brought back the luster and true color of the dryed layer, in this case Liquin, a viscous gel that has excellent archival properties. It sets up fairly quickly and allows me several hours to paint into it with semi-opaque and opaque strokes with the interntion to refine each area that, simply put, needs work. By sharpening up the edges here and there and trying always for a stroky painterly look, I can literally go over the entire painting in a day. If this begins to dry to the point where its unworkable, I leave it overnight, usually with a fan or air-purifier going to circulate the air. The next day I can go back in and repeat the same approach until I have it where I think its finished. (Bouguereau's main approach, over a brown underpainting or 'imprimatura")
This finished quality is more of an instinctual feeling that I have heard from many other artists who know when to stop before they over work their paintings. My illustration background nags at me to keep working on a piece since I know I can bring it to a more realistic, tight level. Thats great for reproduction, but the overworked look is so commercial that I am finally learning to loosen up again and just let the painting live.
Far Below final
Detail of left area
You can learn a lot from looking at the original work of most artists where the paint is heavy enough to reveal the application of not only how it was put on but why it works or doesn't work. This goes for current painters as well as old 'masters'. Seeing the original work is the best way I have found to get to the next stage of where I want or think I want to go technically. I feel if I can create work that I can see produces an image that conveys some emotion or mood- then, at least, I am on my way to doing work of some substance that may be convincing enough to move other people.
Students often judge an artist or illustrator's work strickly by the images they see in print or even online. The only real way to study good work is to see the originals. There is often quite a difference for these reasons- work in print is always reduced, therefore images close up and tend to look much tighter. Also, color is often off and not nearly as rich as the original paint, especially if translucent glazing or scumbling is used where the eye can see through layers of paint. Imagine seeing a well crafted Rembrant or Maxfield Parrish suddenly turned flat in 4 process colors. Few books have been able to do convincing reproductions. Once you compare many originals its easy to see the treament of the paint, the layering and even feel some of the thought that surrounds the piece. Great work does resonate a presence of the artist's comittment. I've been in front of a few great pieces and you can sense the energy of what it must have took to create the piece, in fact, its a little like being there with its creator. That sounds a little nuts I know, but energy, like light or sound waves, can be contained and if you study the science of it all, you may find that sitting in front of a beautifully painted piece (or up close studying it as I do) will begin to convey some of the sense of higher thought and imagination that went into creating it.
Below, the details are close up sections that zoom in somewhat to show the strokes I use to suggest form. Not that this is a great example, but the idea here is that in seeing the detailing, like looking at original art, you can begin to see how the paint was put on and my intent to round forms by strokes following the shape and contour then the middle shadow areas tapering off from those contour strokes.