Monday, June 28, 2010

Learning--Planning Stages of Painting Process

Last post promised some details of my planning process for paintings, so here is a fairly simple example, a 9" x 12" study of a sanderling skittering and feeding at the edge of the surf. The original reference photo shows the bird on the right side of the scene. In another photo, you see doodling and notes on printer paper. Sketches explore possible compositional arrangements and combinations of darks, lights and in-between values. These rough sketches are in grey-scale markers in 5 tones from lightest to darkest--depending on the subject, I sometimes sketch in soft pencil or colored markers instead.
I have misplaced the original messy experimentation with paint colors for this piece, but in the lower right corner of the paper, you can see the results--stripes of the tube colors I chose: cerulean blue, burnt sienna, Paynes grey, black, and white. Then beside the paint colors are a few of the possible mixes that provide a warmer grey in the foreground, gradually going cooler and bluer in the background. Those of you who paint know what interesting greys you can make by mixing a brown (here, burnt sienna) with any blue or bluish color (cerulean or Paynes grey), plus white for lighter versions.
Another photo shows the usual set-up at my easel. On a large foam board, I tape the reference photo(s), a larger scan of the reference photo in black and white to aid in planning tonal balance, the sketches, notes, and palette plans (basic colors and a few important mixes). All are right above the painting I am working on for easy reference. Finally, you see a photo of the completed study, which was a good learning experience for me.
Since I have written about this study previously (enter "sanderling" in the blog search box above for earlier posts), I'll stop here for now. Please let me know if you enjoy entries about the painting process and what aspects in particular you would like to hear about. Since my painting personality tends toward a combination of some planning and some discovery and revision as the work emerges, there are varying bits of preliminary work on the shelves from each work I have completed.
Question of the day: Would you enjoy an occasional post like this one? What other topics would you like us to discuss?


  1. I am always fascinated when hearing about the processes of other artists, Mary. I find myself wondering why I always just slapdash into a piece. No planning other than the composition and that only in my head. Maybe this is why I am not so good? I don't know. I think I'd lose patience with a piece if I went through it twice (the planning, the actual) like this. But I do like reading how real artists do it!

  2. I must thank you, Mary. Your lessons are incredible. Plan a painting, is a big problem for me. I can not think ahead. You are a great teacher.
    Thanks, thanks, thanks .... Your grateful pupil.

  3. thanks, Mary - whether it gets put on paper like you've illustrated, this is the thinking process visual artists use, and I'm enjoying it.
    lovely work!

  4. Sherry, if you plan in your head, that's planning. Each of us has our own process, and that's fine. Thank you for giving us your thoughts on this question.

    How sweet you are, J.B.--you are very welcome. Of course, this is simply my own approach, for whatever it is worth.

    Robin, you express the reality for all of us very well. Visual artists all (probably) use a thinking process something like this. Some may use it without even being conscious of going through the steps. And I suppose artists with more experience than me may not need to put much on paper. Creativity is fascinating and varied.

  5. I always enjoy seeing an artist's process, work area, etc. It's a learning experience each time, and I like to see through another's eyes. Yes!! Keep them coming, Mary!

  6. Thank you for your vote, Jean. I agree with you and always enjoy seeing or reading about other people's creative processes. And I think we share a love for learning experiences.

  7. I agree. Great post, and thanks for taking the time to share it with us. I am a "head planner" as well. But many times if a piece does not turn out how I like, I will try it again, changing what bugs me. Maybe if I took the time to do the planning as you have done, first, I would save that step and come out with a great piece the first time!

  8. You are welcome, Lisa, and thank you for sharing your planning style. For me, though, even when I plan ahead on paper, some paintings still need adjustment and reworking. Frustrating, but part of the experience of creating art :>).