Part 2: A Work in Progress…
At over 4 feet long, this is the largest piece I’ve done. The painting measures 20” H x 54.5” W. It weighs about 15 pounds. Not the easiest canvas to maneuver, let me tell you. I actually had to bring another table into my studio to work on this, as it was too big to fit on my desk.
When you are painting, it’s easiest to work from back to front. This means, you paint the objects that are farthest away in the scene first, and paint whatever is in the foreground last. This eliminates the need for excessive re-painting (touching up an area that you’ve already completed, often more than once). So the first thing I painted on this piece was the black background. I knew there would be a significant amount of green for the top of the tree, and that I would need to paint it in layers; a layer of leaves behind the branches, as well as a layer of leaves in front of them. So when I free-handed the tree onto the board, I left the branches bare. Then I painted the black of the background around the branches.
Note: I said in Part 1 that I wasn’t an artist who free-handed my design onto the canvas. However, there are times when you have no choice.
The piece is so large that attempting to design, sketch, scan and resize the tree was simply impractical. Also, the figures are the main subject of the painting; therefore, once they were transferred onto the board, in the correct size and position, I could draw the tree to the proper scale and make certain it was positioned correctly. Besides, I always encourage free-hand work, it’s important to keep your skills honed.
After the black was finished, I painted the leaves in behind the branches. Painting these first made it much easier to paint the branches themselves on top of the green. If I’d painted the branches first, then when it came time to paint the back leaves, I would have had to paint around the branches. That’s more time-consuming, and it doesn’t give you the same, clean-edged finish. Acrylics can build up ridges if you’re not careful to apply the paint smoothly and evenly.
Once the back leaves and hanging moss were finished, I painted the tree trunk and branches, and finally the foreground leaves, to complete the tree.
Next step was basing in the world. Keep in mind that basing is probably the most tedious aspect of painting a picture, at least when it comes to acrylics. Many paints have a very weak pigment, or they are of a very thin consistency. Now, this all depends on what brand of paint you are using, of course. It’s not uncommon to lay down 4-6 base coats of some colours before even thinking about shading and highlights. FYI: There are two coats of black on the background; 2 coats of blue water; 5 coats to base the land masses on the globe; 6 coats to base the white horse; and 6 coats of ivory on the columns. And those are just base coats –solid blocks of colour, creating a concrete base for shading.
Since all the other components of the design are in front of the globe (ex: the horses), it had to be painted to completion before I moved on to work on another section.
This photo illustrates why you can save yourself a significant amount of time by working from back to front.
It allows you to be a little “sloppy” while painting, which can be a good thing. Brush strokes are more even, paint ridges are reduced, and overall application time is shortened. As you can see in the photo, the blue and white of the world has overlapped the edges of Jesus’ legs, as well as come over the top of the border. Both of these elements still need to be base-coated, so the extra paint underneath is of no consequence.
Right now, it’s all about seeing progression. Here are some before and after photos of two sections of the painting. Click on the picture to enlarge:
At this point, all the major design components (or bones) of the painting are complete: the background, tree, figures and horses. While there is still a significant amount of painting left to do (the columns, writing, and extremely detailed border), it’s time to step back for a second and really see the painting. The next step in the painting process is to stop momentarily to assess what you’ve finished and what’s left to be done. Then you decide how you want to proceed.
Continued in Part 3: Pause, Particulars, Push…