Making a painting is a long, terrifying, exhausting, beautiful process. Every brush stroke matters, and every decision you make impacts the final product. But that's the beauty of it. A painting isn't just a work of art, its a tangible representation of a period of decisions made in the artist's life. In representational painting this is a subject rarely discussed, as we(representational painters) are not typically concerned with viewers being able to see the labor, a mindset much more common in more abstract work. That being the case, and since so rarely does one get to see a painting progress step by step, I thought for this post I would document some of the process as I created one of my self-portrait personas from this body of work.
This is the underpainting. At this point I have put down a base layer of a ground color(in my case burnt sienna), and painted a first layer of my background blue. There was a step before this where the entire canvas was brown, but I forgot to take a picture of it. You can also faintly make out my pencil lines, I physically draw on my canvas before I start painting. Some painters frown on this BUT painting is such a personal process that I firmly believe you have to figure out a practice that makes you feel most comfortable.
I call this my "High/low" stage. I start to render, using browns, my darkest areas. I also begin to texture areas of the painting like hair, that need multiple layers to achieve a denser feel. Once the lowlights are done, I start blasting in early highlights with a solid white, to create a more dimensional map of the piece. Since oil painting is done in layers, each one shows through the next depending on how opaque or transparent your subsequent layers are, adding a nice vibrancy to the finished product.
In this phase I start rendering skin. It looks strange at first, because in contrast with the underpainting it appears lifeless. But like we touched on earlier, painting is a process, and you have to trust the process. At this point I've also laid down a second layer of the background, and the intense drop shadow, creating a nice illusion of depth, and crossing the figure into the three dimensional plane. The magical abilities of paint are always fun to utilize, and I like to use them to add layers of meaning to a work. Ive also painted in the tattoos on my legs. I use the technique of glazing my skin tones OVER completed tattoos, to give them a more faded and natural look.
Getting close to completion now. I lay in more of the hair, touch up the face to add more color and vibrancy, and start tending to smaller details, as well as painting in skin tones around the tattoos on the arm and legs. For this painting I made a conscious decision to leave the shirt relatively flat and dimensionless, to create a nice push-pull between levels of finish within the piece. The last step will be patterning the boxers and doing final small details.
The finished product. Standing a striking six feet tall. So, as you can see, each step has its own very specific purpose that it serves to lead up to the final painting. They all build together to form the work, kind of like an artistic voltron.
Check back in soon!!!