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painting in progress 20x30 oil
During the painting of a demo the most common question is, “Do you always start that way?” My answer is, “No, I always start with what is easiest.”
One advantage of painting for a long time in different mediums (and while working with different subject matter) is that I have learned many ways to start. Plein air painting a moody sky in pastel calls for a different approach than painting a large oil portrait commission. My approach in watercolor depends on if I am doing a quick sketch or layering to create an intricate composition. In each case I am still making decisions to organize the visual elements of shape, value, edge and color to express a concept. How I begin depends on what will give me the surest route to success.
How do you choose what is easiest? The most important decisions are made before the brush touches the canvas. First, I consider the time. When I am plein air painting I know that the light will change quickly on so my focus goes to getting the correct color notes of the light with very little drawing. If I am painting a large still life or portrait in the studio, and there in no time constraint, then I may do a complete under painting where the values are correct. This makes working on a larger scale easier.
Another consideration is beginning with a section that I know I can describe. One advantage of painting for many years is building up a memory bank of palettes. When I looked at this still life, I knew that I could mix the light area of the pot by using a mixture of viridian, cerulean blue, cadmium yellow and white. I knew that because I have mixed similar color in the past - it is a color that occurs in both water and sky. Using my previous experience made the decision to start with the blue-green light of the pot easy.
Finally I begin with an area that will have a major influence on the painting. This may be a background, part of the subject, or a value extreme such as a lightest light or darkest dark. The “thing” you are painting is not as important as the relationship of all the visual elements together. That is why the start is so important. When you lay down a stroke of pigment you are committing to building a series of relationships to that stroke. When I did the underpainting in the still life, I was committing to the shapes and values of the composition. With the design in place I turned to color. The blue-green is central to the composition. By painting it first I could compare how bright the other colors should be so they do not compete with it. This approach of underpainting - choosing a section I could describe and focusing on what would have the largest impact - gave me the confidence to move forward with the painting.
One advantage of starting different ways is it gives you options if you run into trouble. If I am painting from a model using a plein air approach and it is not working out, I can always start over and do a detailed drawing or underpainting. I can tone the paper or canvas and paint the lights, or I can start by painting the shadow pattern against a light background. Options allow me to test my way to success.
Just remember, there are lots of ways to start paintings and I always choose the easy way.
This painting is busy drying and awaiting final tweaking in the studio. I'll post the finished work in a future blog. Until then, Happy Painting
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