Process to the People: Part 2

My post today is the second half of my entry from two weeks ago.  If you didn't read that post, or would like to refer back to it, here is the link - Process to the People: Part 1.  My goal in the first half was the show how the predominant artistic tradition over the last several centuries and through the Golden Age of Illustration followed a specific process.  Also, I hoped to show how changing your process can potentially improve your final results.

For this half of the post, I am going to show my steps for a recent painting, applying some of the traditional steps but also using some modern tech to possibly add efficiency.  I want to reiterate that this is just one approach.  I find it intriguing because it was used by nearly every artist of the past that I admire.  It is where I want to go with my work.  That may change, but for the last 7 years or so it has been my focus.  It doesn't mean it is the only way to get the results you are after.  There are some incredible artists today that start right on the canvas, designing as they go.  So, with that in mind, take from this post what you think might help your process and not as an indictment against any other approach.

As a quick recap, the process used to go from idea to final was this:

1: Thumbnail sketches
2: Detailed sketch
3: Studies from life (or photography)
4: Value/color sketch
5: Study of head/hands/feet/fabric/difficult passages
6: Full sized cartoon
7: Final painting

A few years ago, I was approached to do a series of religious paintings.  The commission was enough that I could really focus on the images, take my time and develop the work.  I decided that I was going to proceed with the above steps, but also use what I had learned using the computer as a tool.  So, as you will see I adjusted the process, changing some of the steps.  I am still in the middle of my experiment so I can't say if it is an advancement, just different, or step back from tradition.  We will see!

1.  I started with thumbnails as usual.  I did 20-30, but here are a few to give you an idea.  Just a minute or so on each one.  Investing a half an hour at this stage is small, but with a huge return.  I went through a lot of ideas.  Most of you probably do many thumbnails, but if you don't, force yourself to do more than you think is necessary.  The purpose of this step is to possibly find new ideas and refine your vision.

2. Detailed sketch - Still from imagination, really just a more developed thumbnail.  The purpose of this step is to direct you when posing your model, gathering reference and determining other details for the final.  Still a rough drawing, but enough information to get you moving forward with some confidence.

3. Life/Photography and 3D model if needed - At this point I had to decide, do I paint from life, or work from photography?  If possible, I would paint from life, but often it is not an option for the model or budget.  I would rather have the right model for a specific piece and use photography than find someone who isn't quite right who could pose and have to compromise.

I have invested a fair bit of time into learning better photography skills (though these photos do not show it particularly well).  Not from an artistic standpoint, but from a technical standpoint.  If you are going to use photography and take the images yourself, learn how to really use your camera.  Decide that you are going to become and expert and invest the time or hire someone who has.  I fuzzed out the face of the model, because in the model agreement (always good to have one signed) I didn't have the rights to publish her likeness from the photo.  I don't think she would mind, but good to follow the agreement.

When I do a photo shoot, I usually proceed with this mindset:

1 - Try to capture the whole figure at once
2 - Focus just on the facial expression, don't worry about the whole
3 - Focus just on the hands
4 - Feet
5 - Fabric

By the time I was done with this shoot, I had 200 or so shots that I was able to choose the best elements from.

I have also used 3D models to help establish some forms.  My preference is Blender.  It is free and plenty powerful enough to do all that I need it for.  It is a great tool.

Photo reference for textures and scenes is important too.  When I go on vacation, I become *that* guy with my camera.  Camera always up to my eye, snapping pictures of the most mundane things.  In France, I took 4500 pictures, only 20 or so had me or my wife in them...  the rest were of trees, rocks, walls, doors, buildings, plants....  Same with Italy, though I was sure to get a few more with family in them!

Ground reference

Plant reference

Texture reference for the well

4. Value/color sketch/studies/full-sized cartoon - If you are comparing my process to the one listed at the first of the article, you will see that I am combining several steps into one here.  Here is where my digital background is coming into play.  I painted a finished version of my piece on the computer.  This let me work out all the values, colors and detail that I wanted in the final.  It also provided me with the chance to do studies of the hands, head, feet and fabric.  It also provides me with a full sized cartoon.  All in one piece.

When the file was done, I sent it off to a blueprinter and had it printed at the final size.  The prints are rough, black and white, but only cost $2 for a 34" x 50" print.  Very cheap.  I used this print to transfer the drawing to the canvas and then inked the drawing with india ink and a brush.  It is a very fast method to get your image onto the canvas.  There are other great ways too.  I will comment on that later in the post.

Once I have this image, I take advantage of the tech at my fingertips and try some different color ideas.  Even if I am pretty certain, I always shift the temperatures around, or change colors completely.  Why not?  It is fast and I learn a lot about color relationships, even if I don't go with the changes.  I actually do this every time I finish a piece.  I spend a few minutes trying out different color schemes.  It is a great way to explore color!

Maybe some different costume colors too

I think I know what I want, so on to the oil painting!

5. Final painting steps

Early progress shot.  You can see the transfer lines, inked over with india ink.

A little more progress.  Color wash on the whole lower piece, face is nearing completion.

Upper two thirds are done, just the feet and ground to do.  Almost there!

Living Water - 34" x 50" oil on linen

I also decided to build the frame for the painting. :)

Conclusion - I definitely feel that all the work before starting the final was worth it.  I have more years under my belt working digitally than traditionally, so there are aspects of the digital version that I probably pulled off better, but overall, I feel that the final oil painting is the strongest, especially in person.  I am still finding out if substituting the digital study for traditional is an improvement.  My mind tells me it is, but there is a nostalgic, even romantic side of me that wants to do those steps with just like the old masters did.

For my most recent paintings, I haven't printed out the large print to transfer the drawing (like I mentioned in step 4), but have done a grid and scaled up my digital painting by hand.  I find that I like the direct interface with my drawing at this stage.  I add in little touches that are interesting that I miss when transferring the drawing like I did with this piece.  I might make a conscious effort on my my next painting to combine the two, transferring big shapes and free handing the details.  We will see.

I don't think I will give up tubed paint or my digital camera as a tool, but look for a future post where I work without my digital toolset and create everything with a traditional approach.

Experience will tell.  I am sure that I will refine my process along the way, and will post results when I think they are informative.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Last step - onto the next painting.