From St-ART to finish
I’ve written quite a lot about my writing process but very little about the process I go through in creating a painting. I’ll be honest, for me, the painting process is a whole lot easier. There are so many layers to writing from conception, scribbling notes, character and setting development, research, more scribbling notes, rushed garblings into a dictaphone, draft 1,2,3,4…. etc. It’s a long process and you have to be made of tough stuff to go through it.
Painting is different. It’s quicker for a start, it’s completely absorbing, it’s more immediate, and, for me anyway, it’s a lot less problematic than the writing process. My creative/painting process goes something like this:
Pictures in my head
I see the picture in my head, quite often when I wake in the morning. Sometimes I’m consciously thinking of something to paint, but mostly, something appears. What appears is the concept, the overall layout, occasionally some sense of colour – sometimes this overrides everything else. It can be a pattern, a mosaic of colour, that then grows into something else. I think of my paintings as little stories. Each one is a freeze-frame of a more complex story. At the moment, I rarely use photographs except for detail on animals – the colouring on a fox I painted in ‘Night Life’ for example, and the butterflies in ‘Flutter By’.
I keep a small pad and pen next to my bed, so I do a quick pen sketch of the picture in my head. These mini sketches normally take between 2-5 minutes. Sometimes a title comes at the same time too. Occasionally, I let the idea float around my head for a bit. I often find myself doing these mini sketches while eating breakfast – a smear of marmite or splodge of muesli added for authenticity! I stick the mini sketches into a bigger notebook (sometimes sketches are done straight into this book) which I then write little notes on, eg. what size canvas would work best, idea of colours, detail of species in the case of two paintings that included butterflies.
Drawing on canvas
I love painting on box canvases – you don’t have to think about framing and I like to hold the canvas while I’m painting. I also like the wrap around effect as the painting spills over the edges. I draw out, in pencil, the mini sketch onto the canvas, keeping detail to a minimum. Drawing usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes.
This is the longest part of the process, for obvious reasons. I tend to work from the top down, but I nearly always leave detail – plants, flowers, butterflies, animals, people, until the end. I don’t know why. It just works for me. I work mostly with acrylics and build up the painting in layers doing the main areas of colour first – trees, fields etc. Then I build up areas of colour and detail – leaves within leaves, flowers around the bottom of a tree for example. Animals and people are notions in my head until the setting is almost complete, so they usually remain white ghostly shapes for most of the process, as can be seen in this image of my current work in progress, ‘Just Sitting’:
When I have most of the background in place, I can make a more educated choice about colour and detail needed for the focal point. Quite often, more background detail is added after this, and sometimes a last minute something extra. With ‘Leaf Fall’ the kite flying boy in the background was added at the last minute:
It’s a strange thing with painting, but I just know when it’s finished. If it feels unfinished and I don’t know why I leave the painting on top of a cupboard in the hall so that I keep walking past it – usually within a couple of days I’ve worked out what I need to do.
It’s a lovely process – absorbing, therapeutic, joyful… experimental too – it’s great fun trying something you haven’t tried before, doing something in a different way, and it’s lovely to be able to show the finished piece to other people too – there’s something very immediate about it all. I love it!
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