Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Patches of Spring - the process - 1

I've just finished my most ambitious painting so far, and I thought that, for those of you who may be interested in how I put a painting together, this would be a good one to use so I can share my process with you.
Sometimes my paintings are IMAGE driven, and by that I mean that I take a photo that I JUST HAVE to paint. That's when I noodle around, looking for ideas in which to set this image, or ways in which I can change and enrich the photo so the finished painting is an original, not just a copy of the photo.
Sometimes, as in this case, the painting is IDEA driven. I love those first days of spring when the snow is melting back and the earth and grass is just starting to peer though. I remember the horses loved it too. Forget their breakfast of hay, they wanted those first blades of grass! I've always thought that horses seem so content in their environment - they have a sense of harmony about them, and a number of years ago, I did a painting called "HARMONY" that depicted Paint horses against a background of patchy snow and hillside. Last year at this time, I had planned to do a second one on this theme, but life got in the way. It seemed appropriate to do it now, a year later when things are almost calm and peaceful again,
My first step is to gather my photos, and that means looking through my albums to find what is going to work with my idea. There were 3 photos of horses invovled in this painting, and each one was a different size. I had to resize them so they would be in proportion to each other.
I'd like to say here that it is point of honour with me that I never trace or project. I do use a grid, and that takes skill, knowledge of the subject, and a good ability to draw. There are no lines there to follow, I am the one who has to decide exactly where the lines are going to go within the little boxes. Mistakes are easy to make.
I decide how large I want the finished painting to be, then see how many squares each horse is in the photo, and how big each square will have to be so I can size up and draw the image in the desired space . In this painting, the buckskins, the black, and the chestnut paints each required their own hand drawn grid, and each one had to fit with the next one. The black paint was not co-operating, so I ended up doing him by hand, without the grid.
Once the horses (or other subject) are in place, I put in the background, and in this sort of painting, it is almost as important as the main subject. I do my positioning sketches and the initial drawing on large sheets of newsprint, and when the drawing is the way I want it, I trace it onto tracing paper, rub the back of it with graphite, and then transfer my drawing to the watercolor paper. (Note please, I am only tracing my own original drawing here!)
The paper I most like to use for watercolor work is Arches Hot Press. The 140 lb is very smooth and lovely to work on. The 300 lb is lovely too, but a little rougher and you have to insist a bit more with it, but I am enjoying using it again for these larger paintings.
I usually use a masking fluid to outline some areas so I can put on a free-flowing wash of sky, as you see in the photo above. When the sky is done, I remove the mask and get on with the painting.