My latest painting, entitled “Symmetry”, was a surprise.
By that I mean, I never expected this one to turn into a painting. I was sketching from a photograph of Rico lying on a beach towel. This was a photograph I had never tackled before because it’s kind of a weird angle and I thought it would be hard to draw. And it was—I was having some trouble with it. But then I thought, what if the point of view were directly above Rico, and not from an angle?
I liked that idea, and I thought it would be cool to make it perfectly symmetrical. Or close to symmetrical, anyway. So I tried it. I did a rough sketch where I changed the angle and made the image more or less symmetrical, as if you were directly above and looking straight down on the figure.
I wasn’t expecting much—this was just a little sketch experiment. But I liked the drawing so much I decided to take it to the next step, which would be a drawing that was more detailed and more carefully symmetrical.
So I took my rough sketch and re-drew it using a ruler so that everything would be fairly close to equal on both sides. This worked out really well, and I began entertaining the idea of actually doing a painting of this. I hadn’t yet even visualized it or worked out color ideas in my head—which is unusual for me—but it seemed to want to be painted. So without much conscious thought, and a lot of just ‘surrendering to the flow,’ I grabbed a piece of canvas and tacked it up onto my easel.
Next I scanned the symmetrical drawing and then used a digital projector to project the image onto the canvas so I could trace it with pencil (rather than having to re-measure and re-draw the entire thing to do it in a larger size). Then I laid a brownish-purple acrylic wash over the whole thing. I was still able to see the pencil lines, so once that dried, I painted all the lines in black. That’s the stage you see above, with a couple of daubs of yellow paint added to see how the color looked.
Next I began mixing colors, and putting some of them onto the painting, to see how they worked together. What you see above is a result of some experimenting with the upper panels on the towel—trying a color here, a color there, and lightening or darkening or changing the color altogether until it starts to hang together. (As you can see, I wasn’t happy with the design on the towel in the photograph, and created my own design. Not sure why but I kept seeing this sinuous line on either side of the figure—so that’s what I created.)
Now I’ve laid in most of the colors. At this stage it’s all kind of rough. I wanted to get the colors laid in to make sure it was all going to work. Now that I see that it does, I have two challenges. One is to work with the flat flesh tone of the figure to give it more life. The other is to go in with a small brush and do the fine work of painting carefully around all those black lines.
Above is the final painting, “Symmetry.” To bring the fleshtones to life, I used some of the oranges, pinks and yellows from the colors in and around the towel and worked them into the colors on the figure. Also, rather than leaving the colors flat, I made the figure more three-dimensional by varying the light and shadow a bit—not much, just enough to make the figure seem more rounded. I also saw that the black lines for the abdominal muscles was just too heavy-handed, and I got rid of those and instead used some fairly subtle highlights to delineate the abs. Then I spent a couple of hours doing the fine work of filling in all the little edges around the black lines, both on the figure and on the beachtowel—the ‘finishing’ touches—and I was done!
This painting was an interesting experience because it kind of just happened, rather than being something I purposefully created. And now that it’s done I’m looking at it and I’m not quite sure what I’ve got. It’s a painting of a boy lying on a beach towel, but because of the way I painted it, it almost seems like a symbol or an icon. The way I painted the beach towel looks almost like a stained-glass window, and the symmetry of the figure adds to the iconic feeling. As I’ve said many times, I don’t always know what I’m painting, or what I have painted. I sometimes see or understand things I didn’t see or understand before about my art when others tell me what they see. So if you have an impression of this painting that you’d like to share, please comment on it here. Thanks.