June 02, 2008

Surfer Portrait

This series of photos gives a pretty good insight into the process that goes into almost all of my paintings, figurative or otherwise. If anything sets it apart from my usual output, it is the fact that since I intended this as a sort of demonstration, I have followed my own rules more closely than I probably would have otherwise. Most of the information about my working habits can be gleaned from the pictures above without too much exposition on my part (click on the picture for a closer view) , but I will give you a little tour of the painting experience and see if there is anything I can add.

The first marks I make on the canvas are guidelines more than anything. I am giving myself a little preview of the composition and making any changes I might want to make to the placement of the biggest shapes. In some cases I will have made a preparatory drawing in which decisions about smaller shapes and more nuanced shading will have been worked out. This is not the place for that information. These marks will be totally obscured by later work. I will save my more delicate observations about form for later.

Once these lines are in place I knock in my most general colors. What I am creating is a moldable platform on which to lay more detailed information. I am not even reaching for the illusion of a face at this point. I am reaching for the illusion of a roughly head shaped lump. I am filling the area I will be working on with paint so that in later stages I have something build off of. I have two colors mixed at this point, a stand in color for all the areas that will be in light, and a stand in color for all the areas that will be in shadow. I try not to worry about anything besides this distinction at this point. Also, I am not thinking about the edges I am creating between my light and dark shapes. If I go out of my way to smooth this edge, or make it consistent in any other way, I am giving myself an artificial and unconsidered limitation later on.

With my rough platform in place I am ready to start bringing more attention to the smaller forms of the face. My palette becomes more complex, including skin tones both lighter and darker than any in the base coat I have laid down, as well as a ruddy hue that I will add to my colors occasionally to approximate the variety in skin tone in different areas of the face. I may work certain areas farther towards completion than others at this point, but in general I am working each form into the one beside it, so no two areas can really be tackled as completely separate forms. Smaller details, especially the planes that make up the eyes and mouth, must be worked up to gradually. I must wait until I have succeeded in observing and depicting larger forms, after which the mouth and eyes can be suggested with a few final strokes. If more than this is needed to convey these features, I know I have not done my preliminary work well.

Up to this point I haven't tackled anything outside of the figure. If I were doing a more complicated painting, I probably wouldn't take the painting this far without establishing the color and basic form of the other elements. In any case, once I have turned my attention to the shirt, hair, and background, I tackle them in much the same way: First a rough drawing, then a base layer of unmodulated color , and finally the application of darker and lighter color in the creation increasingly smaller and more nuanced planes.

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