I am in the midst of a HUGE painter’s block (like writer’s block only for painters). You can see in this update that there are some improvements, and some things that are worse. In every painting I reach this point where I feel like the painting will never be right, but luckily I have the past to prove me wrong. It WILL be OK! I’m telling this more to myself than to anyone else. Thankfully, my husband Eric is a huge encouragement. It WILL be OK! Now I am going upstairs to my studio and I’m going to paint. Here goes nothing!
When I was in college, a professor of mine always advised his students not to let their paintings become too “precious” to them. If you do, you will keep them the way they are, and never take risks. One way that this advice has benefited me is in correcting mistakes. When I first started painting I would think “Well, that person’s eye is a bit too low, but if I move it, I might not be able to repaint it as well as I did.” So I would leave it in the wrong place. Now I know that if I cling to my painting too much, I will never have the courage to fix my mistakes. I have to let go of it for a while and trust that when the mistake is corrected, the painting will look better than ever.
I briefly mentioned in my previous post that I use my computer to help me recognize my mistakes. I download the latest picture of the paintings and flip back and forth between the reference photos and the paintings really fast. This helps me see the differences between my work and the reference photo. I write down notes of what needs to be fixed so I don’t forget.
Here are two photos that show how I begin to correct something that is not right.
My parting word for now is this: A great way to learn from your mistakes is to acknowledge them and make things right!
When painting with oils, it is easy to make adjustments while you go. Especially when you paint in thin layers. From this point, the changes will become less noticeable, but increasingly important. When portraying a person, if a facial feature is just a millimeter away from where it should be, it can make a difference.
Today I painted in a rough version of the background. I also made a few little adjustments to the faces (making a smile wider, or a shadow darker…etc). It is easy for me to pick out the things that are wrong with my paintings when I have the reference photos and the latest picture of the paintings on my computer. I flip back and forth between them really fast so I can tell if the eye is slanting up too much, or if the nose is in the wrong place. Then I can make notes, and adjust accordingly. I love how forgiving oil paints can be. I don’t know how people paint with watercolors!
Ok, this marks the first layer of color in the process. It is also the first layer of oil paints. This is where I bid Adieu to Acrylics. I can’t use Acrylic over the oil paint. If I were to paint Acrylics (which are water-based) over Alkyds (oil-based), it would crack. Think of what happens when you put oil and water together in a glass. The oil rises to the top. Connie, my client, asked me to do the paintings in Sepia tones. I am using Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, and Titanium White.
Ok, here is the black and white under painting. The reason that I painted that Burnt Sienna wash was so that I could get a true idea of the values in the black and white layer. If I left the canvas white, the white that I painted on would not seem as white. So this Burnt Sienna layer is to help keep the values in perspective. The black and white layer (as well as the Burnt Sienna) is done in acrylic paint. This is a real time saver as Acrylic paint dries in a matter of minutes. However, I love how luminous oil paints are so after the black and white layer, I switch to Alkyds (a fast-drying oil paint).
Yesterday I applied the fourth and last coat of gesso (acrylic primer). I sanded the canvas after each layer so that the surface would be smoother. I drew a grid on the canvas and on the reference photos and drew each of the boys. The reason that I use a grid is because it is a fast and accurate way to draw the image on the canvas. This way I know that everything will end up where it’s supposed to be. Once the drawings were completed, I erased the grid lines and sprayed the canvas with fixative so that the pencil lines would stay when I applied the first coat of paint. The next step is to apply a layer of paint in a middle tone. I usually use Burnt Sienna, because if it shows through, it lends a nice warmth to the painting. When I went to paint this, I realized that I was out of Burnt Sienna so I mixed my own using the primary colors. I’ll admit, it’s not my smoothest paint application.
Connie, a family friend, asked me to do a portrait of each of her sons. After meeting to determine the sizes and other specifications for the paintings, I (with some welcome help from my brother and sister) stretched and primed the canvases. A few more coats of gesso, and I’ll be ready to begin.