“SWAN AMONG DUCKS” STEP by STEP

For a few years now I've been taking pictures of most paintings as I go. It's been helpful to see how my process has changed, especially with things that I don't do consciously. also, It's fun to see where things go and where they've been...and it also reminds me that I still don't really know what I'm doing with each piece. I've tried both planning and winging it, but they generally all end up with the same amount of elements I anticipated and things that just happened. Here's a few shots of "a Swan Among Ducks" that I finished a few months ago.

sketch w/ wash of cadmium & burnt umber to tint

Lately I've been tinting all of my canvas after the sketch but before I start painting. this is a shot of the sketch (very light and lines only) with a wash of cadmium and burnt umber. because I don't use a ton of paint, the wash helps warm up the flesh tones. i've also come to hate painting on solid white, as everything just ends up looking cartoony before there's a background...and I never start with the background.

swan-1here's what I started with for the flesh tones. I believe this is (for the warms): zinc white, naples yellow, naples yellow italian, yellow ochre, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, and burnt umber. (the cools): ultramarine blue, and sap green. I sometimes use more, but these are the essentials.

swan-2here's a first pass on most of the face. I have been doing more and more reworking and glazing of faces these days, but if I don't get it mostly right the first sitting I'm in trouble. this first sitting probably took 6 or 7 hours and didn't cause me too much stress, mostly I think because the high contrast of the reference photo tends to make things easier.

swan-3this is skipping forward quite a bit. two main points about this image. regarding my order, I tend to almost always paint the figure first, with the exception of the hair. I'll then paint the background, then go back and do hair, detail stuff, glazing, etc etc. this allows me to get into the hair with a tiny brush, painting individual strands sticking out and such, without having to worry about messing it up with a background. i'm aware that this is a less than ideal method as it's hard to weigh colors and contrasts of the figure (and focal point of the piece) without really having any idea of how it'll look on top of the background. on top of that, I almost never know what the background will actually be so I can't even really picture it accurately. I've never been able to stray from this order though, mostly because it's impossible for me to focus time and energy on something other than the figure, before the figure is looking good. after all, if the figure is off, it doesn't much matter what the background is doing. I also kind of enjoy the surprise; what the figure looks like on top of a real background instead of a shitty looking wash.

the second thing about this image is the bird, or bird(s) as I actually painted another one in that empty spot on the left. I had those planned from the beginning and probably spent 3 or 4 days painting them. they looked good too, but somehow didn't work with the painting. not sure why really, but now I know I can paint them if I need to.

here's the final. it'll be going to Tampa in June.

30" x 40" - oil on canvas