Most of the time you will only ever see the finished painting by an artist. The painting-process itself can take days or months to complete. But there is so much that goes behind the paintings that doesn’t actually involve picking up a paint brush. This post shows you the thought process and steps that I took to complete my Superb Wren and Camellias painting.
The design for a painting is usually a multi-step process. After coming up with an initial idea, I have to source appropriate images to use as inspiration and reference. From that point, I then have to combine them into a singular image so that they blend seamlessly together. Following that I do a lot of paint swatches, testing various paint colors to see how they interact with each other and how accurate they are to the reference photos.
Whilst it’s probably not necessary to reference my inspiration, I believe it’s important to acknowledge the hard work that others have gone to in order to help me create this painting.
Kim MyongSung uploaded a gorgeous photo on Flickr that helped me to create the branch that the Superb Blue Wren is siting upon. During the design phase I removed the flower at the end of the branch and flipped the branch so that it was reaching up into the sky.
KathC uploaded an important image for this painting onto Pixabay. As you can see, much of this painting was based around Kath’s gorgeous image. During the design process I did however manipulate the reference to better suit the composition by shifting the location of the flowers in the painting and tilting the entire photo to an angle.
Kourilek uploaded this gorgeous flower photo onto Pixabay. This is the fourth flower on the painting, situated at the very top. I loved how the leaves just casually drooped over the flower. Often people paint leaves and flowers separately, as if they are two seperate entities. The leaves hanging over the flower really emphasised that they were part of the same plant.
The last inspiration came from Patrick Kavanagh on Flickr. I didn’t alter this reference photo much at all since it was pretty much perfect as is. I merely adjusted the angle and direction that the wren was facing, and adjusted the feet as necessary for it to sit on the branch.
Once I have all my references and inspiration pieces gathered, I begin combining them together to create the ideal composition. This isn’t a one step process; often I will test various compositions to try and determine which I prefer.Throughout the entire composition design I have to keep into account various compositional rules. For this specific painting I wanted to use the golden ratio composition to lead the eye into and around the canvas.
Once I have the main elements placed, I will adjust the locations of the elements to get the perfect position. The above pictures are just two examples of how I played around with subtle variations of the design to see where I liked the positions of elements.
At this point I am ready to make my initial sketch. I like to trace my images digitally. This allows me to easily test out various techniques, colors and tonal sketches in miniature form to understand fully where the final painting is heading. If I drew this sketch out by hand the traditional way, I would only be able to test all these features out once.
By sketching digitally, I can just reprint the page when necessary. Sometimes this is a blessing as I will do two or more color sketches to test the harmony and placement of colors. Furthermore, a digital sketch allows me to resize the painting quite easily to be quite small or even quite large. I only need to draw it once. No more wasted time.
The Tonal Balance
Using the sketch I begin several different tonal sketches to work out the tonal values of the painting. For this particular painting I chose to do the checkerboard tonal pattern; light-on-dark and dark-on-light.
I knew that the wren would be a focal point for this painting so it made sense that it would be of dark contrast values. Thus to make the wren “pop” I had it placed upon a light tonal background. Following the checkerboard tonal composition principle this meant that the opposite corner would need to be dark-on-light as well, thus the lower left corner’s leaves were much darker compared to the leaves in the lower right corner.
The Color Sketch
The color sketch is less about tonal variations and more about color – one of the reasons why this following image looks so unprofessional. I am using cheap printer paper here, focusing on where certain colors will be placed in the painting and the difference between highlight, midtones and dark-tone colors.
You can see in this color sketch that I had initially planned to have a sky coloured background. I later decided that this distracting to the purpose of the painting and changed it to very subtle greens and yellows.
The Painting Process
Transferring The Image
Since I make my sketch digitally, this allows me to print my sketch out quite easily. I print the sketch out onto standard printer paper, scribble the back with graphite (as opposed to using graphite paper), tape it down to my board and paper and then draw on top.
Inspired by Susan Harrison-Tustain’s techniques of layering watercolour, I placed the yellow underpainting upon the background. To give the underpainting slight variation I also added very small amounts of the Scarlet Red to the background. This was particularly important in the light areas around the wren as this area would only have one layer of paint.
I then begin to layer the background colors, building up the shades and tonal values of green.
After the background is painted, I began to add the colors to the foreground. This again involved a yellow underpainting on the leaves.
The next few stages of the painting jumped between leaves and the camellia flowers, progressively layering paint upon paint and building up depth and tone.
The last step of this painting – the blue fairy wren – was only one step, so I didn’t take any in-progress photos. Sorry!
The Finished Painting
If you would like to see the finished painting check out Superb Wren and Camellias in my Portfolio.