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Creative Process (Part 3)

The Artistic Method Continued • Article by Doug Swinton

Having a plan is the essence of getting good results in painting. Once you go through your process of systematic preparation it's time to get your hands dirty. Along with using the 5 Dominances of Painting to help in the choosing of your reference and developing preliminary sketches, there are a few other simple ways to keep your painting on the right track.

Below is a set of 5 rules to keep in mind. As you follow these methods with every painting they will become engrained in your process. Planning out your method this way allows your brain to be free from overthinking and thus allows you to stay in the creative zone.

1 - Big to Small Shapes

Always start with the big shapes and work toward the small shapes. You should be able to reduce your reference to no more than 5 major shapes. If you can’t get it down to 5 shapes or less you have too much going on. Once you have your major shape broken down you can then break those shapes into three smaller shapes. From there you can break those three shapes into even smaller shapes as needed. You can’t, after all, paint the fleas on a dog before you have painted the dog.

2 - Big Brushes to Small Brushes

When you get the little brush out too early, before you know it you will have a myriad of leaves on the canvas before you can even see the tree. Try to use one brush size bigger than you feel comfortable with to keep loose and stop yourself from getting into the details too early. Move to the smaller brushes as you transition to the smaller shapes, reserving the smallest brushes for the very end of the painting.

3 - Dark to Light

It’s easier to lighten a dark than it is to darken a light. Start with your darks in any area of focus. Once the darks are established move to your mid tones, then add the reflected lights, the highlights, and finally the accents (both light and dark). Working this way will help you keep your colour’s fresh.

4 - Warm to Cool

It’s easier to cool down a warm colour that it is to warm up a cool colour. Whenever possible, start with the warm colours in any one area and move to the cool colours.

5 - Dull to Bright

To make colours to sing they can’t all be signing at the same time. One of the ways 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 subtle skin of a princess. Just let me paint whatever I must around the mud”. Start with duller versions of the colours in the big shapes and move to fresher less dull colours in the medium shapes. I save the brightest colours for the end of the painting when the details go in.


Here is a little 20 minute painting to demonstrate my process...

1. Working from large to small, break the reference into three large shapes.


2. Break the three large shapes into smaller shapes.


Working from large brushes to smaller brushes and from dark to light, place your darkest values.


Move to the midsize shapes with a smaller midsize brush.


Going from dull colours to brighter colours, mid-tones to lights and from big brushes to smaller brushes, place your details and the sparks of colour.


Put it in a frame, pour some wine, put on some Romi Mayes and enjoy the rewards of following your plan.

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