My struggle

There are few - if any - paintings that don't put me through a period of struggle.  In every project, there is a point when I have to step away from what is safe and composed and dive into what is unpredictable and chaotic.  There have been a dozen or so paintings that this period of visual discombobulation has been rather elongated.

If I was to identify the various phases of a typical painting project, what would they be?  Hmmmm...

The Drawing Phase

Using the grid method, I start working from a black and white image proportional to the canvas that works best with the composition.  Depending on the subject, or number of subjects, the type of clothing or background, the drawing phase can take from as short as 15 minutes to as long as multiple hours.  Strangely, the drawing part of any project is the most physically taxing.

The Base Layer

I typically start applying very light shades of colour to the brightest spots of the subject's face, shades of yellow, green and blue give way to flesh tones.  Highlight lines get applied along with medium tones of orange, red, and green.  When medium magenta and yellow green arrive on the canvas, it means a new phase is about to begin.

Working the Canvas

As I move from the base layer to finding the right palette and tone balance, I begin the struggle.  I never go into a project with a pre-planned colour treatment.  Rather, I work the canvas until I find it.  Sometimes that search can take quite a bit of effort, and paint.

Walking Away

When a project is particularly tough, I try to walk away for awhile.  Leaving the space, or having a nap, gives time for my unconscious mind do its work.  The lingering questions of colour, texture or line will bounce around in my brain while I distract myself with something completely unrelated to painting.  On most occasions, the answer reveals itself and I go back into the studio with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

The Background

Getting the background of portraits right is so important.  Making a wrong choice can take away from the subject and cause dissonance and visual confusion.  When the background is right, it seems to cue the heavenly choir to break into song.

Final Touches

The best thing for me to do when a project is substantially complete is to walk away from it for a bit.  Getting to this point before a meal is particularly useful.  Going through the process of preparing and serving food, visiting with my family, and cleaning up, shakes things up enough to allow me to view the work with fresh eyes.  Small changes near the end can make all the difference.

The Signature

I typically only add my signature at the very end.  Occasionally, I go back and make slight changes after, but it is rare.  The signature becomes part of the composition, shifting positions depending on the piece.

I am learning so much as I go through this creative journey.  The projects that provide the most struggle tend to offer up the most valuable lessons.  The commissions that provide great challenges give the greatest gifts.


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