May 26, 2008
Making compositional adjustments in real time
As with many of the paintings I have been working on recently, I am painting from a small drawing that I did in my sketchbook. The first step is to copy the drawing onto my canvas using a round brush and oil paint diluted with turpentine to the texture of ink. In the initial drawing stage I use the oil paint as a transparent wash, like watercolor. Unlike watercolor or ink wash, the oil paint can be almost entirely erased at this stage with a turpentine loaded brush and the edge of a folded napkin. Because of this I don't worry about too much of a system in transferring the image. I work from object to object, or, if the composition is made up of very small shapes, I will lay down guidelines. When the linework has finished, and before I have filled any of the shapes I will make adjustments, erasing and reapplying lines and allowing the surface to become a little cloudy with the ghosts of previous marks, when the composition is ready I will let this first layer dry. Very subtle shading can be done at this point, and can serve as a guide for the more opaque modeling that will be done in later stages.
In this picture you are seeing the first marks of paint in the second stage. Generally, in this stage I would just be reinforcing the decisions I had already made, first choosing a color to fill all my shadows with ( more subtle variation in shadows will happen later) and then oulining and filling the shadow shapes I had already established in the drawing stage. In this case, however, I have used this stage to correct prroblems in the oringinal drawing. ( The objects as I had intitially drawn them seemed too large compared to the counter surface.) Since I used a relatively light color for my initial drawing lines, I can replace them easily without being confused about which is the final line. When I am filling my shadow shapes I generally begin with the smallest ones so that I can get these more complicated areas out of the way. Regardless of its size each line in the outline of a shape must be tackled seperatey, so smaller, more intricate shapes provide a greater challenge than the larger background shapes which are often defined by longer straight lines. In this painting the most complicated shapes where those of the elipses on the top of the pot and cup. By doing these first I am able to do alot of erasing without messing up any wet line work.
The second picture is what the painting looks like at the end of the second stage. All the shadow work has been done and the highlit areas have been filled painted in with white. This is the first point in the painting when you really see the relationship between light and dark shapes that will inform each of the adjustments that follow. In some cases, what drew me to the subject initially has dissapeared at this point, in which case I do some adjustments to bring the out the subect matter. Generally though, I am drawing with this stage in mind. The adjustments I make to the subject as it is observed initially ( mentally rearranging objects, changing the relative size of objects, adding objects that did not exist ) are made in order to create a more dynamic relationship between dark and light shapes,
In the following post I will give you two examples of paintings which have followed this same process.