How I Start a Painting : How I Start a Painting

How I Start a Painting

by Richard F. Rose on 08/01/13




When people talk to me about my artwork, I'm invariably asked the following questions;

What are you painting now? How long does it take to paint one of your paintings? How

do you do, what you do? What materials do you use? Which paints, which brushes?

And the list goes on.....


Personally, when I create a painting, it has to start with some inspiration, some idea,

some image that prompts me to start thinking in terms of an image in a frame, As well

as devoting the type of time that I will have to commit in order to complete a full

painting. This inspiration will have to be great enough to carry me through the potential

weeks of painting..... through the highs and lows of process, that will inevitably happen.

A famous artist once said that the most important thing an artist can learn was when to

get off of a bad idea  and this holds true with any inspiration and how well it actually

translate into a painting.....


In obtaining my art inspirations, ideas, I spend a great deal researching, traveling and

photographing what I find to be unique items and scenes. To this end, as much as

possible, I use my own photographic reference, combining anywhere from three or

four images, to as many as ten, to complete the majority of the reference required for

a painting. Knowing full well that at times, looking for inspiration can be as unfulfilling

as panning for gold, and that in most instances inspiration will occur spontaneously,

opposed to being the result if a conscious search.


Painting and Supplies


I only transfer and paint one element of the composition at a time, this allows me to

remain fully concentrated on the intricacies of that single piece. When finished to my

satisfaction, I'll go onto the next element. Without question, as I add elements, I ll have

to go back and adjust the lighting, color and or contrast on an earlier section, to insure

that the components read properly against each other. I normally start with a smaller

item, this allows me to get a feel for the painting, so to speak a rhythm.....For this

process, I want to start smaller than larger, in case I have a change of heart about

my approach.


Insofar as doing the materials and doing the actual painting, I have a ritual and set

grouping of supplies and elements in and around where I paint. For a palette I use a

10  coated paper plate (not Styrofoam) you can buy them at the supermarket in bulk.....

once I've I selected my palette of colors, I have the tubes set in order on a nearby

window ledge and I always place them in the same order on the palette. I use

Liquitex Basic Acrylics, although less expensive than the top of the line Liquitex and

although they purportedly don t have the same pigment content, I've found that the

basic pigments still do just fine. I always keep a wide range of  good  brushes on hand,

good means a sable brush that  points  well. I keep the plastic tubes over the tips (from

when they were purchased) I want them retain their shapes as long as possible, work

with anything from a 00 to size 10 brushes. I sometimes work on a wooden articulated

easel, that I can adjust to if need be, place a painting surface in a flat position. I also

have a large painting light (with both warm, cool bulbs to simulate daylight). 

Although it appears that my painting area can become  messy  at times, I always

know where things are and can find them without too much of a of the

most important aspects of my creative process is to be comfortable in my work

space.....which is something that only I can ascertain.....I just want to be comfortable,

because I ll be spending a lot of time in this area.


My Painting Surface


If I work on masonite, it will be 1/8 thick. that I cover with Golden's Gesso.  On a

larger piece (for example, approximately 19" X 30" ) I ll use a standard 2  paint brush

that one might use painting the trim on a house to apply the Gesso. I paint the Gesso

on the surface using strokes in random directions, always keeping the surface wet and

fluid.  If you try and paint the Gesso after it s started to dry, it will gather and leave

and objectionable surface.  I generally will lay down a minimum of three coats.  I

leave the surface natural, allowing the brush strokes to remain (some people sand

these down, I choose not to), personally I feel that they add personality to the final

piece. From time to time, I ll also use a heavier build up gesso, using a smaller brush

(1/2", 3/4" ) I'[ll make smaller, more dabbing types of strokes that will leave a heavier

build-up.  I generally do this on smaller paintings where I m not going to try and

obtain a high degree of detail.....trying to paint detail on an irregular surface can be

detrimental to yourmental health.


Transferring The Image(s)


On my computer, I'll combine all of the photographic elements, and then print the

composite out full size. I then measure out a grid (anywhere from 1/2” to 1” squares)

and rule, with pen, over the composite photograph. I do a duplicate grid in pencil on

a piece of frosted acetate, matching the grid that s been ruled on the photograph.

Along the top, bottom and each side of the grid I number the rows, so that they

correspond with the number at the other end of the row, allowing me to easily find

an area on the grid......


To that end, I usually grid this for final size, proportion and transfer of elements onto

the gesso. One of the more important reasons for my using this process.....Opposed to

some artists, I never draw the fullpainting onto my painting surface, I choose to do

small elements, or small paintings within the full painting.  This allows me to

concentrate on a specific area without getting lost in the totality of the painting.....

and if I want to start an area that‘s free from the area that I've been working on, the

grid allows me to do that and still stay consistent with the proportions and distances

within the composition.  This is a technique that was used by the old masters when

transferring their sketches and rough art to larger canvases and walls (in the case of

murals), although generally they were enlarging their images.

Once I've selected an element, I'll draw it out first on sketch paper, then onto tracing

paper and transfer it to the substrate on which I have chosen to paint on.  I will  usually

buy pre-prepped canvas or board to save time.  If I want more texture, I can always

add it with more gesso, but because I do work using a lot of detail, I like a smooth

as possible surface.

With the painting finished and thoroughly dry. I will put a transparent  finish over

the entire painting, either varnish or acrylic. 

I hope you find this process helpful when you start your next painting.

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