Part 1: Planning, Prep and Polish
Sometimes a picture pops into your head, right out of the blue. Maybe it’s an object, or a scene, or an abstract thought, rather than an actual image. As an artist, this can happen to me multiple times, and on a daily basis. Some ideas rate jotting down, others you just let slip back into the ether.
In the fall of 2009, the image of a big tree, with enormous roots, and lush green leaves suddenly appeared in my head. It had deeply grooved bark, and immediately I thought, “how amazing would a big ol’ tree like that look with a symbol carved in it?” Then one after the other, the ideas came: Tree of Life, alive, green and growing, with roots spreading out to anchor it to the ground and branches that form a canopy over God’s people, and the symbol of the Messiah (Jesus), who is the Tree of Life…and it just continued on from there.
The marvelous thing about the Bible, is that when you read it, and you finally *understand* it, you have no trouble coming up with ideas and references, symbols and verses. The biggest problem I faced with designing this painting, was knowing when to stop. I could spend a life time adding to it. The entire spiritual side of the Bible, in ONE painting…be still, my beating heart!
Every painting starts with a sketch. So I will share with you some of the preliminary work that helped to birth this work of art.
Here you can see how crude and primitive the early stages of planning are. It’s not about finesse, it’s about seeing, actually making a hard copy of what you want to do. Getting it down on paper somehow makes it real.
Once you get the basic idea down, (ex: the tree), next step is research: what can I add to this, what do I want the final outcome to be? What message am I going to illustrate, and how?
I’m a visual person, I need to see words and ideas, not just hear or think them. So I take notes, I make sketches, I mark down as much information as possible, and any idea that could be a good one.
This is the most important step in creating a painting. You want to try and work out as many of the details as possible before making your final sketch, which is the “bones” of a painting. You can always add elements later on, but the bones are fixed, assume they aren’t going to be changed.
Once the idea has been cemented, both on paper and inside your head, you can start prepping. This means, making usable sketches for a transfer template. I’m not an artist that free hands directly onto the canvas. I sketch, scan, resize in my computer, print to size and transfer to the canvas. I think of each element as a painting in itself. So when I start creating the template sketch, it has to be as close to what I want the finished product to be as possible. Then when all the elements have been sketched to my satisfaction, they can be arranged into an appropriate composition.
Most of the time, I end up with more sketches than I actually intend to use. Sometimes the only way to know if an element will add to the piece, or not, is to see it in conjunction with the other pieces. How do you do that? You sketch it!
Originally, I thought I wanted the girl to be holding these lilies – – if they look vaguely familiar, it is because they are based on Da Vinci’s lilies sketch, which went on to be featured in his painting “The Annunciation”. But, when I put everything else together, they just didn’t work, nor were they necessary. However, the sketch wasn’t a waste at all. I worked the lily blossoms into the design of the column capitals.
The last design step, was a colour rendering of the final product.
This would serve as the basic guideline for me, regarding base colour choice. I pinned it to the wall in my studio, above my work station, for quick and easy reference. While I had this design in the computer, I tried a few variations on the colour scheme, as often times what sounds good in your head, doesn’t translate well into reality. Once I had ruled out a number of possibilities, I was able to choose the final colours.
After I had all the sketching completed, and arranged in the final composition, I scaled the sketch to fit the canvas, which in this case was a piece of 3/4” MDF (medium density fibreboard). MDF has a wonderfully smooth, only slightly absorbent surface, making it ideal for acrylics. It also comes in a 4’x4′ sheet, so you can cut it to the desired size, perfect for larger, non conventional pieces.
Finally, I was able to lay out the template sketch onto my board, and using graphite paper underneath it, trace the design onto the surface.
Next step …… paint!
Continued in Part 2: A Work in Progress…