For my second painting of Jeff, I got a bit more ambitious. I chose a shot of him sitting on the floor in my living room in the late-afternoon light. By ambitious, I mean that instead of just focusing on the figure as I often do, here my intention was to create a fully realized environment, with light, shadow and space, so that the viewer has a sense of place and time, and all the emotional components that come with that.I wanted to do a more stylized approach on this one. The first thing I did was start playing with the image in Photoshop. As usual, I applied the Posterize filter to get a more stylized, colorful look. This is usually gives me ideas about ways to transform the photographic image into a painting. As you can see, I also moved one of the plants, and changed the exterior view through the windows to something more colorful and tropical. Being able to re-create the source image digitally like this is a great tool in planning the painting before even beginning to do rough sketches.
Next I started doing actual real-world sketches on paper. In fact, I did a LOT of rough sketches trying to get the figure the way I wanted it. The ones you see here are just a few of them. When my intention is to give the figure a more stylized look, that means I have to draw it over and over again until I have a really good grasp of all the dynamics of the pose and the way the parts of the body fit together within that. Sometimes I’ll draw the pose 20 times or more before I finally hit on a way to bring it to life in a simplified, stylized manner.
Once I got the figure more or less right, I worked on integrating it into the background. This involved more rough sketches while I worked out the relationships between the figure, the sofa, the plants, etc. It always changes things when you take the photographic image and start transforming into lines on a piece of paper. My final goal was to have a painting that consisted of a line drawing AND a somewhat realistic light-and-shadow environment, and have them work well together. And the first step toward that was to get a line drawing that worked.
The top image you see here is a more finalized sketch where I began adding light and shadow to get a better idea of how things were working, or not. This felt pretty good to me, but I wasn’t happy with the model’s hand. It looked awkward to me. So I went looking for a similar pose in the same series of photos, and found another one where I liked the hand better. I also noticed that in that pose, I liked the position of the legs better, too. So I did another drawing of the figure with those changes, and liked it. To see how that would work, rather than re-drawing the entire background, I just cut out the figure and laid it on top of the light-and-shadow drawing I’d just done, and it worked pretty well. So now I was ready for the next stage of the process.
Next I scanned the pasted-together drawings so I could work with them in the computer. Once I had the scan, I worked on it in Photoshop to clean it up. That meant getting rid of as many greys as possible so I could have a mostly purely black-and-white image to work with. By putting that on its own Photoshop layer, I can create another layer “behind” it where I can apply color, so that I can do a digital test painting before doing the real thing in acrylic on canvas.
This is the test painting I did in Photoshop. I sampled colors directly from the digital source photos, and kept some of the colors as is, while tweaking others. The result was an image I thought looked pretty workable. Doing this (which took about an hour and a half) also gave me some insight into some of the challenges that would present themselves when I began actually creating the painting in the real world. Not all of them, of course, but the more I know ahead of time, the better.
Now, after 4 days of sketching and preparing both digitally and on paper, I was ready to start the actual painting. I used a digital projector to project my digital drawing onto the canvas, traced it with pencil, then painted that line drawing in black. Once that was dry, I began painting a reddish-brown wash over the line drawing. Next step was to mix the colors.
This is where having done the digital test painting really pays off. Even though there’s never an exact translation of color between the computer screen and the real world, I have a very good printer, and by printing out the source photos and the digital test painting, I have something I can put in front of me while I’m mixing the acrylic paint on my palette. This helps a lot!
Several hours of painting got me quite a ways along. By this point I was feeling pretty good about how it was going, except I wasn’t at all happy with the head or face. So I painted over the face and continued with the rest of the painting, with the intention of going back and working on the head/face as part of the last phase of the painting. By now I’d been working on the painting for nearly a week and was hoping one more day would do it.
The next day I started work on repainting the head. After many false starts, I finally got a face and an expression that felt alive, and whose looks I liked. Then, a few more finishing touches, and I was done! This was one of the most ambitious projects I’d undertaken in quite a long time, and on completion, I felt pretty triumphant! Since my apartment is on Ohua Avenue, I’m calling it “Ohua Afternoon.”