All of your preliminary work is done. Sketches, value study, motive, the centre of interest, and now you are ready to paint. Having these in place will keep you on track, guiding you down the creative path. Now comes the actual act of applying paint on your surface. Once these are in place there are 7 things to follow that will make the painting process flow.
#1 Big to small. Start with the big shapes and work toward smaller shapes. You should be able to reduce the information in your reference down to no more than 5 major shapes. More than that, then you have too much going on in what you have chosen to paint. Once your major shapes are broken down you can break those down further into three smaller shapes. If you want, you can continue breaking shapes down, smaller and smaller if needed. You can’t, after all, paint the fleas on a dog before you have painted the dog.
#2 Big brushes to small brushes. Once the large shapes have been broken down, utilize your brushes in a similar manner. Start with BIG brushes and then work down to smaller ones as you progress. All too often, the little brush comes out too early and before you know it you have a cascade of detailed leaves on the canvas before you have even seen the tree! Try using one brush size bigger than you feel comfortable with to keep loose and out of the “detail too early zone”. Then you can move to the smaller brushes as you address the smaller shapes, for the very end of the painting.
#3 Dark to light. It’s easier to lighten a dark colour than it is to darken a light colour. In any one area where you are working start with darks. Working out from dark then shift into your mid-tones, then adding the reflected lights, the highlights, then the accents (both light and dark) last. Working this way will help you keep your colours fresh, clean and vibrant.
#4 Warm to cool. It’s easier to cool a warm colour than it is too warm a cool colour. Start with the warm colours in any one area and then move to the cool colours where you can.
#5 Dull to bright. If you want colours to sing, they can’t all be singing at the same time. One way to make a colour pop is to place it in a surrounding duller area. As Rembrandt once said, “Give me mud and I will paint you the skin of a princess just as long as I can paint whatever colour I want around it.” Start with duller versions of the colours you want in the big shapes moving to fresher less dull colours in the medium shapes. Save the brightest colours for the end of the painting when the details go in.
#6 Thin to thick. There are a few reasons to work this way. Thick or fat paint (paint with a medium added to it) will always ride or apply better over thin paint. Thick paint comes forward and thin paint tends to want to recede. Putting down thin paint in the early stages of painting will allow you to build up with thicker paint in the later stages of a painting. Thick or fat paint will glide over thinner areas without picking the under paint and will help in keeping you out of the mud zone. If you start with your paint too thick in the early stages of a painting, colours will start to smudge together and this is when the mud mixing begins. Also if you have thick passages of paint everywhere your painting will have an overworked look to it. You would be surprised how great a smaller amount of thick paint will read if it is placed over a nice thin application. Again thick paint tends to want to advance and thin paint tends to want to recede. If you have thick paint everywhere your painting will actually tend to flatten out. Build up to thicker paint.
#7 Loose to tight. Start out with minimal amounts of detail. If you put too much detail in the early stages of a painting when you get to the more detailed parts you will have to be that much more detailed to keep things reading right. Loose washy backgrounds allow you to build up to the more detailed parts. You would be surprised how little detail you need in a painting if you have looser areas around your detail. The renowned American portrait painter Richard Schmid would often start a portrait with the eyes (in detail) then get looser and looser as he moved away from the eyes. (A bit in reverse of what I’m saying here but getting the same result)
I follow these methods on every painting, with them becoming so deeply ingrained in my painting process, allowing my brain to be free from overthinking placing me dead center in the creative zone.
Hope this keeps you gliding along.
Your friend in art.