Friday, May 7, 2010

Beginning Steps for a Study

There are many ways to start out a painting.  The best method depends on the scale of the painting, the desired result, and the preferences of the painter.  For a smaller study, here is one method that I often use:
  1. Thumbnails - Make at least 2 small compositional thumbnails to work out the composition.  Keep the thumbnails small- 2 inches maximum on the long side.  If you have a canvas already make sure the thumbnails are the same proportion as the canvas.  The more accurate you are with this, the easier it will be moving forward.  If you don't have a canvas, then expand, contract, and shift the edges of the thumbnail around until you have a good composition.  Then buy or make a canvas that matches the proportions of your thumbnail.
  2. Initial Drawing - Choose a color of paint to draw with.  Any color can be used, though it will likely show up a bit through the layers of your paint so keep this in mind.  I recommend experimenting with different colors, but if you're not sure what to start with then try blue.  Mix whichever color you choose with white to a point where it is very light, but still visible from a good distance.  Use this color thinned down with turps to draw your thumbnail composition onto your canvas.  It helps to refer back to the thumbnail as you draw.  I tend to look at my thumbnail almost as much as the subject.
  3. Step Back - Step back and view your composition from a distance, and also try viewing your piece in a hand mirror.  Both of these are valuable tools to help you see the whole of your composition with some objectivity.  If space is limited and you can't step back, just use the hand mirror.  It's very good practice to step back as often as possible during the initial drawing, but it is critical to get a good look at your composition before you move on.
  4. Drawing Corrections - Mix your drawing color with white, but to a slightly darker value than in the previous drawing step.  Use this color to make corrections to your drawing.  The color you are working with should be just dark enough be distinct from your initial color, but still fairly light.
  5. Drawing Refinement - repeat steps 3 & 4 as necessary until you are satisfied with your drawing.  If your canvas becomes to saturated with paint to draw well, you can wipe it down with a cloth.  If you have made several edits in one color and it's becoming difficult to see your corrections, try switching to a different color paint.

A Comparison to Writing

When writing an essay, it's rare that someone just starts at the beginning, writes all the way through to the end, and then considers the essay complete.  Instead, one usually begins with a rough draft, and then through a series of edits you bring the rough draft to a completed essay.  While you will still make some effort to write a good first draft, you also understand that it will almost inevitably need editing and don't fret if something isn't quite working out right- you will be able to edit it later.

A similar attitude is useful when painting.  It's good to make a good effort on your initial drawing, but you can leave some pressure off yourself thinking that you have to nail everything right away.  If there's an area that isn't quite working, you just make a note and move on- rather than obsessing over the part you can't get.  You can always come back and get it later- particularly in oil paint which is very flexible.  This also helps prevent you from focusing too much on one area to the detriment of the rest of the piece.  This is kind of like writing with a word allotment and using too many words to make one of your points.

You can take this metaphor one step further and liken the thumbnail to creating an outline for your essay, where you lay out the major points quickly, and plan out the overall structure of the piece.  The thumbnail functions in a similar way- you don't want to get bogged down in all the details.  Just plan out what you fill in later in more detail.

Using a Viewfinder

When you are planning to fit your composition on a pre-purchased canvas, it can be very helpful to use a viewfinder of the same proportions as your canvas to aid you in both the thumbnail and drawing stages.  The simplest viewfinder is just a board with a rectangle cut out of it in the same proportions as your canvas.  A more flexible solution is to use two L-shaped pieces of board clipped together such that they form a rectangle of the right proportion.

[Photo to Come]

Alternatively, you can use a board with a square hole cut in it, and a second piece of board board clipped over the square such that it creates a rectangle of the correct proportion.  I prefer this kind of viewfinder because it easier to ensure right angles at the corners.

[Photo to Come] 

There are also various commercially available viewfinders.

It's worth noting that spending a little bit of extra time making sure your viewfinder is the correct proportion will save you lots of time and headache in your study.

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