Recently I have documented a painting I was working on by taking a picture of it every 15-20 minutes or so. (Or at least I TRIED to remember to do that.) Anyhow, I compiled all my pics in a little video to see the evolution of the painting in a minute or so. I find its helpful for people to see the progression of a painting/drawing. For this particular blog I would like to break it down to a few steps and discuss what I did in each step, focusing on drawing, color, brush handling, and much more.
To start off here is the video that I had initially made…
The “How – To” Part…..
The painting is done on a piece of 12″ x 16″ canvas pad. Nothing special, it was really all i had on me when I decided to start this piece at work. Starts off white, since canvas pad comes white, primed with a coat of gesso (primer for paintings).
Next I “tone” my canvas with some yellow ochre acrylic paint. I use a wet paper towel, and plop a blob of paint right in the middle and just spread it around till its all covered.
Why do tone? I tone my surface because I do not like to work on a white surface when i paint. Think about values, If you want to have a light value right off the bat like a white or light color, it wont show up on white initially until you put a color next to it. I like to instantly have my mid-tone in, so I just had lights and darks as I go. Some artists prefer to work on white, and thats fine, some prefer working on other colors, and thats fine as well. I like yellow ochre for its neutral tone, not too bright not too dark. Its what works for me. I will sometimes use burnt sienna or an umber for the same reasoning. *Using acrylic under what will be an oil painting is o.k, as long as it is thinned down, and not heavy. The gesso that comes on most canvas is acrylic based anyhow.
Once it dries in a few minutes I am ready to sketch. I first start out with a gesture drawing of the bird. You can see how I started by getting my basic shapes in, based around my line of action. The line of action is a line that represents the pose, or form in one or two simple gestural strokes. In this case it sweeps down and to the left. This bird is broken down into a oval for the body and a circle for the head. I then started to add in shapes for the beak and tail. Start lightly, and build from there, If you start with dark lines it will be harder to change them. Only darken when you are sure of the placement and shape.
Here I develop my sketch a bit further. You can see how I put a few plum lines in to make sure my beak and tail are just about aligned. I also take this time to measure my bird. In this case I measured the subject by number of heads. I made sure i had about 2.5 head from top to pole. When drawing things in linear form, certain proportions and shapes can be deceiving. Its when you start adding tone in that make it look a bit more three dimensional. I usually feel more comfortable drawing with lines then getting my tone in. Some artist like to start with tone. There is no wrong way, just whatever you feel comfortable doing. I try to take in the different patterns in the blue jay’s head, so I know when I begin to paint to keep the shapes in tact.
After refining the bird, I sketch in some quick leaves, bush shapes, and the diamond pattern on the chain link fence. I dont take the time to sketch in the exact chain link fence. Gotta draw the line somewhere! That might have made me go a bit crazy! Ill tackle that bit more in my underpainting.
Here is my completed underpainting. I used an umber brown acrylic paint with water to thin it down for lighter areas to achieve a tonal painting. This is where you want to work out the tones in your composition. Notice how I have a lightly darker tone next to the birds left side. ALso notice how my pole for the fence stands out light against the dark tree on the left and darker on the lightness of the background on the right. This stage is important to work out all the values so you don’t have to really worry about it when applying color. I also refined my chain link a bit more with a heavy dark line and made the twist of the links a bit more apparent. Remember to keep the acrylic thin, and build up to your darks.
Next stage is the first application of oil paint. I call this the ‘plopping’ stage. My students think Im a bit nuts when i say to just ‘plop’ it down but really thats all I do. I mixed up a variety of greens for the background, and paid attention to the values i had there, and laid down color accordingly. For the bird I mixed up a light and dark version of the white belly area, and some blue and darks for the head. Once I get in the basic local colors I do what I like to call ” injecting color’ but just putting in a few brushstrokes of reflected light/color in the shadow side of the bird. In this case i used a variation of the blue from the blue jay’s head. I find when I ‘plop’ I use a flat synthetic brush (not bristle) and just lay the color in.
I call this the ‘brushstrokey’ stage. Can you tell how technical I am? This is what the end of the first plop looks like. I always tell my students if they want to leave it looser like this with brushstrokes thats fine, but I usually soften a bit here and there.
Once I get everything where I want it I soften the plopping strokes just a bit so I have a various of soft edges in the background to help it pull itself out of focus and recede in the background more. I use a dry, soft larger brush, a soft filbert or flat usually works best, And by slightly featuring and barely touching the canvas I shift the paint a bit here and there to merge the colors together.
Once the first layer dries, I go into the bird with a few smaller, round brushes to get texture of the features and crisp darks and vibrant blues in the head. Here are a few close up images I took while painting that aren’t featured in the video I made.
After details on the bird I go back into “plop” mode and restate my colors, values and get the background a bit more to my liking. I used a variety of colors for the background. I personally don’t use black. To make my extreme darks for the tree on the left, I use a mixture of sap green, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue. Other variations I used were ultramarine and cadmium yellow, along with a bit f cadmium green , toned down with cadmium red. The pop of red in the background was a bit of cadmium red, white, and a touch of ultramarine blue. In this stage I also began to tackle the dreaded chain link fence! It was actually sort of fun! I chose this picture since you can see half the fence on the left which is more complete compared to the section o the right which is from the first plop.
The final product. Here I have completed the fence and suggested in a bit of texture in the tree on the left while it was still wet. Softened a bit more where I needed, adjusted a few details here and there on the bit and leaves, and signed it. Can you find my signature? 🙂
I hope this break down of my blue jay progression piece helps people understand my process. If you have any questions feel free to post! If you are more interested in learning about how to draw/paint animals, or handling oil paints, feel free to check out my upcoming spring classes! Classes can be found on my classes and workshop page here on my blog and also my website. Enjoy!