100,000 Ways to Start a Painting

Crested guan, hand-colored inkjet print of a thumbnail pencil rough, drawn from an original field sketch. Sounds like a lot of steps, but it's actually really fast. Watercolor over inkject print on bond paper (you can do this on watercolor paper, but this is just as good for the purpose). 8 1/2" x 11"
Hand-colored inkjet print of a thumbnail rough in graphite, eyeballed from the field sketch of a wild crested guan. Watercolor over inkject print on bond paper (or on watercolor paper, but bond is fine). 6″ x 6″

Actually, it’s probably somewhere in the billions. Anyone with a pencil or brush can devise a new method. I like to experiment. Here’s my newest: take an original field sketch and make a thumbnail rough on another piece of paper. Keep it small (it can literally be the size of your thumbnail). No details, just dark and light and vague (guan-like) shapes. I use a scanner to get drawings into the computer, but a digital photo will do the trick. You want to print out and paint over it.

Here's the original sketch. This guan sat on a vine in a clearing, honking and looking this way and that, but basically staying put. Lucky me. What struck me most was how brightly the wattle glowed in the understory shadows- a red lantern in the dark. That became the focus of the composition. Pencil sketch, 8 1/2" x 11"
Original sketch of crested guan perched on a vine on BCI’s Wheeler Trail, at marker 6. It honked in alarm, then relaxed into the pose. Lucky me.  The wattle glowed brightly- a red lantern in the dark. Pencil sketch, 8 1/2″ x 11″

It seems the hand drawn thumbnail- the act of hand drawing- is a crucial step. I’m not positive, but I think the hand has all the talent. Something spontaneous happens between a field sketch and a thumbnail design. A rough sketch is no big commitment, either, so you can freely generate ideas by the bushel. Take advantage of creative bursts; if you’re on a roll, stay there and crank it out. Thumbnails don’t have to be good, just abundant. You’re priming the pump and you might get something you can develop and use for real.

Here's the thumbnail rough, which measures 4" x 4". Smaller= faster. I used a graphite bar to rough in the values. Ask yourself: where's the light coming from? Where are the darkest darks?
Thumbnail rough, graphite, 4″ x 4″. Smaller is faster. I used water soluble graphite in a tin brushed over 6B pencil lines. Resketching this small helps with placement of design elements, light direction, values and focus.

I noticed that, in redrawing the field sketch, it underwent some unplanned changes. The guan became more animated. It turned its head to catch more light in the wattle. Here’s where I  make choices. Do I keep the original pose or follow the thumbnail’s interesting  suggestions?

After I scanned the colored rough back into Photoshop, tweaked color and contrast, copied and pasted the sunlit palm leaf back over the guan, I moved the image around and resized and cropped until it seemed ready. Then I framed it.

It's all about seeing in a new way. Some use a mirror for a fresh view (the digital analogy is flipping it). I photographed a frame I have lying around and, in  Photoshop, plunked in my color comp. Magic. I can adjust again until I'm happy with the results.
It’s all about seeing in a new way. Some use a mirror for a fresh view (the digital version of a mirror: flipping the image). I photographed a frame and digitally pasted in the color comp. I can now adjust the image as if it were already hanging on a wall. At this point, you can match the couch. Kidding.

Framing helps. It may only be a photo of a frame, but even so, it helps me visualize how it will look, finished. The digital version will be reference for the next phase: the actual painting, made by hand with brushes and paint. Can’t wait to start.

Happy Friday.

5 thoughts on “100,000 Ways to Start a Painting

  1. Becky Way says:

    Love the ideas! Just picked up the Cowboy edition of Oklahoma Today. Your drawings of the Clydesdales, stagecoach and Dalmation are very inspiring. Beautiful work! I just wish they would give you a two-page spread!

    1. zeladoniac says:

      Thanks, Becky! I’m thrilled they let me do this every issue. And those Clydesdales are sure fun to draw. Wait, you know that already.

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