Several people have recently asked to watch my painting process. In the following posts I will document the execution of a painting from start to finish. My technique is hardly revolutionary, though it goes against many of the "rules" some artists swear by, and certainly doesn't involve what I learned in art school, which is basically nothing.
First off, as I continually emphasize, the most important part of a good painting is a good drawing. The drawing doesn't have to be completely rendered, as work of art in itself, but it does have to predict the painting process and solve most of the problems with composition and accuracy of the image.
Here is my finished drawing on a pre-streched, primed, linen canvas:
Note that some elements are tightly rendered, and some are left fairly rough. This is to anticipate the painting process. The figure and fabric issues are largely solved. The background is relatively loose, because, in this image, it will be hazy. I'm trying to capture a noir feel, so the background will be dark, with some high contrast light areas. I drew the bricks in, so their placement is also solved, and I use a ruler to get the few straight edges of the buildings secured.
This drawing took about 6 hours.
I'm working from images from a modeling session. Some artist don't like to work from photos, but I find it convenient. Also it allows me to zoom in on the more difficult areas like the portrait, hands and fabric. Feet are hard too, but, in this case, the model is wearing shoes so they are relatively easy.
Unfortunately, if you haven't put in the 10,000 hours it takes to learn to draw from life, getting to this point may be impossible. There are no [well a few] tricks or shortcuts. It takes time, dedication, and hard work to master drawing.
Because the model is wearing a classic trench coat, I wanted to go all out and put her in a noir setting. I just did a google image search for "noir city" and found some reference material I could borrow elements from to create my background.
I want to get the background largely finished before I touch the figure. Because the bulk of her image is the trench coat, which is an ocher color, I want to do the background in its complement, aqua. Because it's noir, it's going to be dark, so I'm using ultramarine, viridian, black, and white. To get a natural look, you want to mix almost all color combinations with black and white to gray them out.
I use cheap, disposable styrofoam plates for palettes and don't waste a lot of time lining my colors up in any specific way. Since the traditional technique of painting is rarely taught anymore, most of us have learned to paint "by ear." Methods that obsess on rules might help some people a bit, but they are no replacement for the years of practice it takes to master the craft.
For a medium, I'm using grapeseed oil because I got a lot of it on sale at Walmart. It stays shiny and a little tacky, so it's not really the best, though you can cook with it and it's good for your hair. Almond oil is the best. That's what Caravaggio used. Linseed oil is a ripoff. Basically any plant-based oil will work as a medium. Don't use corn oil, though, it never dries.
I never mix in turpentine. Turpentine is for cleaning brushes. No varnish either. That's for clear coat protection later down the line.
I start with the sky. In this case, it will be lighter than the buildings, so I use more white. I paint in layers with glazing. The first layer will have unsightly brushstrokes, that I won't worry about now. Subsequent layers will be easier on top of paint, rather than raw, primed, canvas. I still want to brush it as smooth as possible. The more light color is in the mix the easier it is to get smooth. The darker areas will have more rough brush strokes, but that will be resolved with later layers and glazes.
I mix my paints instinctively and on the fly, so there's nothing I can tell you about that. It's an art, not a science.
With a smaller canvas like this, 18 by 24 inches, don't be afraid to turn it sideways to get your edges and keep paint off your hands. Also, learn to use a mahl stick. The detailed drawing makes it a lot easier.
I like hard edges and strong contrast. The harder the edge and stronger the contrast the better. This is just a style choice, but it works for me. I tend to exaggerate the contrast on focal points, typically, an almost pure black against an almost pure white. But that's only with certain elements. I'll do that later with the figure. The noir background in this painting will be low contrast within the darks, but very high contrast against the light areas.
I continued to put in all the darks in the background trying to have a little distinction in color between the different elements, though basically they are the same hue. You can see below that it will take a couple more layers of paint to get the dark areas smooth and eliminate the brushstrokes.
Later I come in with more white with that same simple palette to get the midtones. The white areas remain untouched until the dark parts are dry. That way I can make sure to get the high contrast of the fantasy noir setting.
My method is very methodical. Many of the decisions were worked out during the drawing. No part of this painting is near completion. This is basically only the underpainting for the background. This part took about 5 hours. At this point I will let it dry for a couple of days and go back over everything and tighten it up.
to be continued...