There are a lot of great images from the Kawai-Sam photo shoot I still haven’t used. I came across another great one recently and decided it would make a great painting. I didn’t want to do something literal and realistic, though, I wanted to do something stylized and interesting.
But when I set out to do something stylized I usually have to draw the pose realistically a few times to get a sense of it before I can start to play with it and turn it into something more interesting. This is one of the first sketches I did. It’s cute, but in this case just a first step toward what I’m going for.
I had to do several more drawings before I got to what I was aiming for. This sketch has the kind of movement and dynamic tension I want in the painting. Even though the figures are a mostly vertical element, there are lots of diagonals cutting across the painting to keep the eye moving. This is the main compositional function of the leaves whose vectors cut across the figures diagonally. It’s also interesting how often the strong straight lines are partnered with a sensuous rounded shape. This happens both in the foliage and in the men’s bodies. (I want to be clear that this analytical look at the drawing is something I can do after it’s done and I have some distance from it. When I’m actually in the process of drawing this is not where my mind is at all. I’m just thinking, oh, a line here might work, let’s see what it looks like, oh yeah, that feels good, and now it needs a curve here…etc.)
Once I had a drawing I liked, I transferred it to the canvas with pencil. Then I did a purple wash over the entire canvas and once that was dry, I used a small round brush to re-draw the entire drawing in black. This is now the framework on which I can begin to hang color.
I have a relatively consistent palette I can resort to when I begin a painting like this. Rather than reinventing the wheel every time I start a painting, I have some old standbys I use, like burnt umber for the dark darks (sometimes with a bit of alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue added for flavor), burnt sienna for the medium darks, and for the lighter flesh tones, a mix of yellow oxide (yellow ochre), alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and titanium white. As I paint with these basic colors, I add in some cadmium reds (a warmer, more orange-y red than alizarin), some pure yellow oxide, some pure raw sienna, and sometimes some cadmium yellow as well. I’m going for a basic fleshtone with some vivid surprises thrown in. Notice that as I begin the painting I’m already working all over to some degree. As I’ve said many times, the more you can work all over the painting as you go, the more you can adjust color and light and dark as you work, rather than getting to the end of a painting and having one area that just refuses to work well with everything else.
This painting is coming along well by this point. No major hitches. Another thing I like to do is let one color area “leak” into another. So you see splashes of green on the bodies and bits of flesh tone in the plants. This adds visual interest and makes for a more unified color scheme.
This is the finished work. I’m happy with how it turned out. One of the nice surprises is the way the blues pop out and by contrast make the rest of the image even warmer. I like the warmth both for what it says about the emotion of the painting and because the setting is a wet, humid tropical jungle. I’ve titled this one “Embrace.”