Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Painting Process for 'Elusive'

This was a personal painting done in oils. I'm staying pretty busy with my freelance work, which is mostly digital, so I usually have to squeeze the traditional stuff in between jobs. On top of that, I wanted to submit this for next year's IlluxCon jury, and the deadline for that is... tomorrow. So, I had to paint this entire piece in about 12 hours. I figured I'd talk about the process and thoughts behind it a little. 

Like anything worthwhile I do, this image floated into my head while I was brooding over something else. I did some tiny thumbnails over the next day or so, trying to hold on to the feeling that I had when my reptile brain first threw the image at me, and once I hit on a design that evoked that first impression, I dove straight in. I did the pencil drawing directly on a primed masonite board. Working on this short a deadline means planning the whole painting process ahead, especially since I didn't have time to shoot direct reference for the pose. So, it's important at this early point to get as much important information down as possible. I started with the larger abstract shapes to match what I though worked in my small sketches, then worked out the poses and structure, then clothing and details. Once I thought I had enough to work with, I sealed the drawing with spray fixative. Don't breathe that stuff. 

I then moved to slathering the panel in transparent layers of paint to establish the big notes, especially the shadow areas. I was chiefly using large, loaded bristle brushes at this point and a fairly limited palette- titanium white, yellow ochre, venetian red, alizarin, burnt sienna, ultramarine, prussian blue, and phthalo green. I used liquin as my medium to speed the drying time. It's a good habit to go over the lines during the block in, rather than work your paint up to them, since it gives you more control over how hard or soft you want your edges to be. Sharpening and cleaning edges is easy to do later, but softening them is a chore if they're hard to begin with. 

By this point I'd started to lay in the dark notes, like the rocks, the man's pants and the girl's hair. I'd switched to mongoose hair brushes by that point- they're soft and easy to manipulate, but can hold a lot of paint, so they're hard to beat. Almost all the light areas in the water are the white panel showing through where I'd lifted the paint off with paper towels. After that, I started laying some opaque paint on the figures, first blocking in the shadow notes of the girl in a high key to preserve her overall light shape, and then slowly modeling the large forms of her body. Her foot looked clunky at that point and I procrastinated a long time before addressing it. It's hard to tell in the photo, but I intentionally kept the light areas of her skin fairly low in value, one to preserve the moody atmosphere, but also in preparation for laying the lighter clothing on later. I used the same approach on the man's arm- first, the darker skin of the arm itself was blocked in and modeled; then, the shadow sides of the wet shirt were painted over that, and then finally the highlights (which are NOT white!). The folds of the wet cloth are not copied from a photo- they're designed to help reveal the movement of the arm underneath, and the choppy shapes are to preserve some of the violent tension of the whole painting. 

A friend of mine helpfully pointed out that the girl's shins were way too short, so I did a little corrective surgery, which also helped to deal with the clunky foot. With most of the major blocking in done, I finally got to the fun stuff- diaphanous drapery. As with the man's shirt, I worked on the shadow sides of the wet cloth clinging to her, but much more softly, gradually working to the shining highlights on the edges of the dress and in the creases. Again, the folds are placed to emphasize her movement, where she's bending, where I want to show a form wrapping around. They're also designed to flow more and give an airy look, in contrast to the violent folds on the man's clothing. Other contrasts were similarly installed- her relaxed foot opposed to his firmly planted one; her arm gently wrapping over over his head, opposed to his tightly grabbing her; the much more subtle value and color shifts on her body, opposed to the stark values and chromatic notes on his. 

Once the figures had been refined to the point I wanted, I returned to the background, fixing up the values and colors and cleaning up rough areas, especially edges. When I was happy with that, I did a final pass on the focal areas, particularly the girl's face and foot and the guy's hands, and punched up some of the dark accents. Even in the finished painting, a lot of it is fairly loose, just a dark stain on the white panel in many areas. That play between opacity and transparency is one of the many joys of oil paint, and something you can use to your advantage if you plan for it and won't have time to go in and tighten everything up. Hope all that blathering is interesting to someone. Cheers!