Step by Step 2010 – day 1

Lately I start all of my paintings the same way:  a light sketch/line drawing in pencil, then a wash to tint the canvas. In this case, I'm covering only the figure loosely since I don't have my mind made up as to how I want the background. This [at left] is a mix of cad red and burnt umber I believe, cut with lots of Gamsol . I've experimented with a bunch of  warm/dark color combinations for this initial wash, but it hasn't made much difference. anything darkish reddish brownish seems to work fine for me. I find tinting the canvas rarely affects the way the final painting looks (or if it does, it's really subtle), but painting onto an already warm tone is much easier for me than onto stark white. the reason being; that anything rendered next to unpainted canvas tends to look a little cartoony, a little too illustrative, which makes attempts at finding the right values much harder. So that's the tint. once I've picked the cat hair out of it and let it dry, I'm ready to start in on the figure.

Probably one of the most important things I've learned painting faces, is that things are going to look horrible until the face is almost done.  the hard part is having the confidence that I'm on the right track, and not messing things up before I can actually tell what's what. I have a much easier time with it these days,  but I thought I'd bring it up anyway (plus it serves as a nice caveat for these first few process shots).

here [above] I'm starting with mids, trying to keep loose and using a big daVinci #16 flat brush i've become quite fond of*. (the colors are off a little in these images, but they'll make sense once there's more paint on the canvas - my camera tends to compensate for the lack of light and reflection by over-saturating)

*a word on brushes: I know next to nothing about them, and I'm constantly overwhelmed by the variety available. I know I prefer stiffer synthetics for laying down a lot of paint, mongoose for tighter work, and sable for glazing -- aside from that it's just a lot of trial and error...and money. any advice on awesome brushes I may need to try is welcomed.

once I establish a mid-tone, I start moving towards darks from that mid-tone. then the other way towards lights. at this point, and for the majority of the first sitting, I'm not really concerned with getting the darkest and lightest values down on the canvas. I'm also trying to avoid any detail until the foundation of the face is down and looking right.

Lately, I've been trying to lay in the all the features of the face as early into the process as possible. I used to get caught up with rendering the skin before everything was down, but no matter how good skin looks, if the subject is missing an eyeball, it's going to look wrong.

Now that all the features are in place [above right], I'll add the lighter values, which will fill in the blank spots in the face, and give me an idea of how things as a whole are looking.

this is maybe 5 or 6 hours in, and now I can get into highlights, detail, and bringing the values to where I need them. I am going to do quite a bit of glazing when I'm further along with this piece, so I'm not worried about getting everything exact at this point. I've also got into the habit of adding a bit of background tone around the face [at right] to give me a better idea of where my values are with the right background contrast. it seems to help with this final stage of adjusting things and just generally getting this initial foundation nice and solid. it's also nice to render the edges when both the figure and background are wet, giving me a little more flexibility to play around with sharp vs. loose edges.  i'm going to work back into the face a bunch later down the line, but this first sitting is by far the most important.

now the funny part, I added the dark background and softened the edges at the end of this sitting, and totally forgot that I was thinking of maybe making the background light. oops. I'll fix that later.

also, I forgot to take a picture of my pallet, so If anybody wants to know exact colors/brands of paint I'm using here, leave a comment and I'll be happy to list them all. any comments and/or questions (including "why does that look like the Bride of Frankenstein?") are also welcome.

day 2 coming soon!