As an artist, there are many times where you may be asked to do a job outside your main area of focus. You may be tempted to turn them down, but these jobs act as a learning tool and further establish your knowledge in areas you wouldn’t normally delve into. I also find at this point in my career that working on diverse projects simultaneously allows me to keep an open creative mind and maintain a better workflow, as well as helping to hold my interest for the duration of said projects.
Now let's get into this current commission. Here the client has asked for a portrait style rendition of one of their favorite Blue Jay sculptures from their collection, a small hand-held piece. We agree on the basic design and layout, as well as approach to the painting (how he wants it to look stylistically…looser, tighter, more abstract, more realistic, etc…).
Depending on time constraints, I will render a few small sketches for design and lighting ideas. Otherwise, I will sit for a few minutes and visualize my ideas, which I then go over with the client. I then light and photograph the sculpture to match the vision I have in my head.
Onto the painting! In this case, the client provided a 3’ x 5’ stretcher upon which I stretched a pre-gessoed canvas. That saved a step, although I may add more gesso or modeling paste for textural effects prior to the painting stage. He wants it fairly large, to fit into one of his pre-existing frames.
I prefer to do all my drawing freehand, even though I was taught that it was ok to trace your reference when under tight time constraints during my Illustration studies at FIT. To be perfectly honest, I was never quite comfortable with that approach, but that is just my preference.
To that end, I spend the next 3 to 4 sessions drawing this bird at least 1200% scaled up from the original size of reference. I don’t use the squaring up method, or any other method besides just going for it as I enjoy the sculptural process of finding the art the most enjoyable of all, as well as the unpredictability and challenge. This does however take more patience and time, which is the constant enemy if you let it be. In the end, I think I redrew the body at least 3 times to get the scale I was looking for correct, and the head…it must’ve taken at least 5 to 6 redraws to get it just right! But the client and I are finally happy with the results and have proceeded to the first color wash and lift-off of tones and highlights, setting up my basic value range. I use a mix of Vandyke Brown and Indian Red for this stage, applying the wash with a #4 house-paint brush. I liftoff the highlights with some rags and a few bristle brushes.
With the monotone sepia underpainting finished, the next step will be to go in with the darkest values, to setup for the color to come. I'll cover that on the next post!