Blood, sweat and tears (part one)


This was first posted in 2014 on my old website. I am reposting it now in 2016 seeing the painting is finally completed and showing in my solo exhibition at Castang Art Project.

I realise that nowhere in this blog have I actually discussed in any detail the process I use to make a painting. People sometimes think that I stand in front of the canvas and get inspired, then just start painting. Unfortunately, like most things in life, it's not that simple. There's a lot of planning that takes place even before the brush hits the canvas. For artists reading this, of course you will know all about the planning stages, although everyone's process is different. My own way of working changes and evolves, and not every piece is made in the same way. It gets boring to have a set formula.

This is PART ONE as it started turning into an encyclopedia. PART TWO will arrive in another week.

For the purposes of the exercise I'm going to use the current painting I've been working on as an example. It's from the 'woman and lamp' theme I began a few years ago. The painting was put into hibernation (ie thrown aside in disgust) for ages because sections of the surface got too slippery to work on, which was my fault. As a result it almost got binned, but instead I restrained myself slightly and just ripped it off its stretcher, rolled it up and put it out of sight on top of a big wardrobe. For the following couple of years I kept seeing progress photos of it on my computer, and decided that I still liked the image amd composition and would start a new version, so I pulled it out and stapled it to the wall to do a tracing of it for the new painting. To cut a long story slightly shorter, I decided I had nothing to lose, so had a final go at the old version before it hit the bin. Fast forward a few weeks and it seems I have now saved the original version. I also, however, have a new verson drawn up ready to go on a new canvas... But we won't discuss this right now.

Here is the version that ended up on top of the wardrobe. And it looks a lot more finished in the photos than it actually is.



Anyway, back to the topic, and sorry for the lengthy sidestep.

For me the idea comes first, usually as a thought out of the blue when I'm not expecting it, so it has to get scribbled down before I forget. It takes the the form of a little drawing and theoretically SHOULD go into one of my sketchbooks but often my sketchbook is not handy so it ends up on a scrap of paper - whatever I have around - an old envelope, back of a bill... I usually get around to sticking it into my notebook later or redrawing it there from the rough version. Funnily the first and roughest version usually captures the idea better than when I redraw it and start to think too hard about what I am doing.

Step 2 is editing the many ideas and deciding which to take further. I have many more ideas than I could ever paint, so coming up with ideas is not an issue for me. It's deciding which are the best ones. A theme usually develops. Or I try to stick to one theme at a time for practical reasons.

Step 3 is doing more drawings and planning the image in detail. I actually set up the scene with a model posing and props, some of which I usually have to make. This means I need to work out exactly what I require in terms of objects in advance, and set about finding, buying, making or acquiring them. This can sometimes take weeks, especially if I have to order items from eBay, and I then customise them for my purposes. Most recently I have bought masses of studs and spikes from China and have been attaching them to household objects that I had already or found in discount or charity stores.

Here are some of the props for the vase-lamp painting. I bought metres and metres of electric cable and lots of globes from the hardware store, then got my partner to wire them up. The fuses in the house only went once, thanks to one bulb that was wrongly wired. And of course it was MY fault for turning on too many lights all at once, that is until the real mistake was discovered.



Step 4 is organising a person to model, setting up the scene and taking the reference photos. Actually all of my models are friends or people I know from somewhere. I would actually prefer to do paint the whole thing from life but I don't have anyone willing to sit for a month or more, so I take photos for the figure. I can always go back to the actual objects when it comes to painting the 'still life' component, and often do. 

The photos usually get taken in my living room where I can control the lighting. Setting up lights is an art, one which I am pretty bad at. It's a lot of trial and error, so learning more about photography lighting is on my agenda for the future. Most often I prefer a single or limited light source - whatever is needed to get some decent shadows which help in modelling forms. I used to not worry too much about the backgrounds as I could photoshop them out, but I'm becoming more picky now as it can be a lot of work erasing stuff later that didn't need to be there in the first place.

Taking the photos for a couple of paintings takes most of a day. 



Step 5 is sorting through the images and digital editing. Sorting through the hundreds of shots can take several days. It usually gets reduced down to half a dozen possible shots per painting, and then I start working on the computer, adding in backgrounds from my image library, and doing a lot of digital changes, including quite major distortions, colour and tone enhancements, and testing various possible compositions. This can take another week. I need time to think about the different versions rather than just launching into the painting. If the composition is not right before you begin it's like building a house on foundations that are in the wrong place. Deciding you want a bigger bathroom is a lot easier to achieve while it's still at the plan stage. It takes a lot longer to fix it later.

Below is the my digital source image. I pasted in a background photo I took of the sea near where I live, although you don't get to see much of it. You can see I've flipped the original photo. I can't remember exactly why, but often if I'm doing a series of several related paintings I don't want all of the figures facing the same way, so I mix it up. 



Scale, meaning the size of the painting, needs to thought out too. What is the best size for the work? As I've mentioned in a previous post, I make all of my figures larger than life size for maximum impact. I want them to look more like giants than normal people. I have a basic idea of the size I want from the start but to fine tune I project the digital image onto a wall. Practicality does come into it. I need to make works that fit into my studio and will go out of the door. I am still dreaming of making a 3 metre version but need a bigger door first.

By the time any painting gets started it's at least a few months into the process.The preparation generally takes fifty percent of the time, and actual painting takes fifty percent.

I will post the second part very soon.


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