Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to Make a Painting from a Drawing

"Thanksgiving View (Study)", Oil on Panel, 8x8 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

The fall colors in Maryland are nearly gone, but I managed to get out and take some pictures just before the Thanksgiving weekend. I had the feeling that the leaves would be off the trees soon and on Thanksgiving Day a cold front came through with wind gusts up to 50-60 mph. Needless to say, most of the remaining leaves blew off the trees, so I am glad I got out in time to get some pictures of the red and yellows of the fall. The above painting is based on some of the photos I took around a creek near my house. I have been thinking about making some larger paintings, and this little study will be good reference material for a possible future large painting. My plan is to do some of these smaller studies—and then pick the best ones to make into larger paintings over the winter.

You may also have noticed that I have not posted for nearly a week. I have been a bit busy at work these days, and I have been working on this particular post for most of this week. I also have had two new students sign up for lessons, which got me thinking of what a challenge it is to teach art. I mean, how does one get ideas across in a way that students can learn quickly--things that have taken me 20 years to learn? Most of the ideas I want to relate to my students, I have talked about in my blog, values, color harmony, drawing, etc. However, it is one thing to say it in my blog—or even during a lesson—while it is entirely another for somebody to be able to take it forward in their own work.

With this in mind, I spent my studio time this week working through a demonstration painting covering some of the key issues I have been talking about in my blog. The idea comes from an exercise that I assigned to one of my students, that is, to start with a drawing and take it through to a painting. In executing the assignment, my instructions were basically to copy the tones in the drawings into the painting—introducing color/value combinations that are consistent with those of the drawing. This particular student said she has good drawing skills, so I put her to the challenge. I always remember hearing my former teachers, “Painting is drawing with color.” It has taken me 20 years to figure out what this meant—and I hope you will understand a bit of what this means by the time you finish reading this post.

So let me start by giving you an overview of where I am going. The student I mentioned liked to paint animals—and she had done a few paintings of geese and other animals. She showed me a few painters that she admired—and I tried to talk her through some ideas on how she might move her work in the direction she was thinking. After taking a look at her work and discussing ideas, it was clear to me that she needed to work on her sense of value, color harmony, and focal point. That is a big agenda, so where to start. I decided I would start her off with a simple exercise as follows. The basic approach is to find a drawing or picture where you feel comfortable that you can identify the values--and using you normal drawing materials--make a thumbnail or small sketch of the subject. At this stage, you want to pay particular attention to the values you are seeing. From that drawing--or other source material--the next step is to mix colors equivalent to those values and make the same sketch--only this time using paint. To make it easier, let me summarize the process into three practical steps:

1. Make a Value Scale. Make a value scale on a piece of paper or canvas using your drawing materials. The scale should have your darkest value at one end (black, or slightly lighter), and your lightest at the other end (white, or white with a very slight warm tone).

2. Draw your Subject. Make a drawing from a photo or life (or even from a drawing you find in a book) focusing only on trying to get the right values in the right place. For instance, draw the outline of your subject--focusing on the gesture--then find the various values in your picture and make the same shape/value marks in your own drawing. If you are a beginner, it is often easiest to draw from either a photocopy of a photo (so that it is only in black and white) or to use another artist's drawing. Refer to your value scale often for comparison. You want to choose source material that has clear tonal relationships--especially if you are a beginner.

3. Paint using the same Value/Shape Relationships. Once you have a drawing complete—mixed the equivalent values in paint, and either make the same drawing again using paint on canvas—or go over the drawing you have made (you can put shellac over it if it is on paper) and “draw with paint”. That is, put the paint down in the same shape/value combinations as the drawing.

Okay, got it? Simple, right? Well, let me make myself the guinea pig--and show you a demonstration of this approach (which took me around a total of 4 hours to complete in the studio):

1. Make a Value Scale. This can be done with any drawing materials, but to make it easier to execute--I am going to show you a very straightforward way to get your values down correctly. I went out and bought monochromatic pencils made by Prismacolor. They make a “French Grey”, "Cool Grey", and “Warm Grey” pencil set that is basically grey values. So, I bought one black and one white pencil—and then the five intervening monochromatic tints of the French Grey series: French Grey 10%, French Grey 30%, French Grey 50%, French Grey 70%, and French Grey 90%. That makes seven values--what I would call two accents (black and white--which should be used sparingly) and five evenly spaced values. Prismacolor makes the equivalent in warm and cool grey, so there are three possible color schemes to use for such an exercise. Here is what they look like:



2. Choose a Subject. In this case, I didn’t want to copy my students work--who wanted to paint a rabbit--so I chose a cow (calf), for which I had some reference pictures and drawings of in my files. I started by putting a value scale across the bottom of my drawing. I find this very helpful to help me to see relative values. Try it sometime, it is a simple way to improve your drawings immediately--you can use it to compare your values as you draw. You can see by the value scale below that the panel color is about the same as my third from highest value. I started drawing with my next to darkest pencil--not my darkest--which will allow me to go lower in value later in the drawing. You could use a high value--but I don't recommend it. In this first stage of drawing, I was mainly paying attention to the silhouette of you subject and try to get the gesture correct. I was erasing, and redrawing for around 15 minutes--and this is where I stopped this first phase.



Next, I started by filling in the shape/tones that I saw in my reference material. I essentially took each of my pencil values--and looked for the same value in my picture and then put that down where I saw it in my silhouette. I started with my darkest value and worked up. Here is what it looked like after I put my darkest value/shapes into the drawing.



I proceeded this way for around 30 more minutes, erasing, drawing shapes, changing values. I tried to find distinct shapes and then put the value down in the same shape and value I was seeing. Here is where I stopped with the drawing--and felt it was time to start painting. I basically felt like I had enough information down to get a good start on the painting--and to demonstrate the next phase.


2. Mixing the Equivalent Values in Paint. Before I started to paint, I took the time to mix a full set of values equivalent to the pencils I was using. If you have problems mixing these values/colors--many artist's paints come in premix tints. If you buy black, white, and three pre-mixed values--you can mix the intervening values from these. In any case, I have had a lot of practice mixing paint, so this took less than five minutes to mix the below set of equivalents. where I was uncertain about the value--I would simply compare and adjust against the scale at the bottom of my painting.

I started with the darkest two values--keeping my brush clean between value changes. Here is what it looked like after a couple of minutes. I am using a #5 Bright brush, and you can see that I am trying to put down the shape and value at the same time.

Another five minutes later this is what it looked like--as I moved to the lighter values.



And here it is after about 15 minutes--you can see I am starting to put the background down. I am also starting to lose some of the strong shapes and value relationships--so I am going to have to go back and correct some of those. This is a very important thing to remember--you must be always look and be ready to change what is not right in your painting. If the values or shape is not right--scrap off the paint and change it. As soon as you start to feel there is something in your painting that you do not want to change--or are not willing to change--then you are in trouble.


I worked on this painting for maybe around another 20 minutes--and this is where I ended up.



And here is the painting at the end of the first session--after around 1-2 hours of total work--including drawing, mixing, and painting.



The next morning I got up and went into the studio and hated what I had on the panel. It is not bad, but it was not what I was after at all. I really wanted to get the sense of that awkwardness of a newborn calf--and this was not it. It was too much like a cow. So, what did I do? What all artist should do when they are not satisfied. Start again. So I scrapped off the entire painting--and decided I would start again that evening. Here it the panel scrapped down--which leaves a "ghost image" to start from the next day. Many of my best paintings have been made after scrapping off a painting that was not going well--you should not be afraid to do it.


That evening, I came back to the painting and starting again by mixing each of my values to match my value scale--and started painting in value shape combinations in my drawing. I painted for around 1-1.5 hours and stopped when I thought I had the sensation that I was looking for--the feeling of looking at a newborn baby cow. And here it is:

"Baby Calf (monochromatic study)", Oil on Panel, 8x8 inches

So there it is, a short painting lesson in how to go from a drawing (a not very good one at that), to a painting. I have always said that if it doesn't look good in black and white, it will not look good in color. I hope you can see what I mean from the above example. This is a monochromatic painting--and of course it would be more compelling in color--but would it be more convincing?

So here are few things to keep in mind:


1. Make bold decisions. Pick a shape and a value and put it down.

2. Don't be afraid to change something on the painting--painting is the process of conviction, evaluation, adjustment, re-conviction, and adjustment. It is a constant process of adjusting what you see on the painting--versus your subject. Fight for the image.

3. Keep your brush and values clean. If you are not cleaning your brush properly during the painting process, your values will change and your painting will lose its solidity. Clean your brush with thinner and dry it between every value change.

4. Focus on Value Changes. Look hard at what you are painting--and focus on where you see the values change. Make the same value changes in your painting.

Hope you enjoyed this mini-lesson. Go to your studio and try it out.

All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

34 comments:

Melissa E. Keyes said...

Good morning!

And, oh, my, poor you! Two intense hours struggling with the difference between the mind's vague, or sharp, image, just to, the next morning, say ugh. How many dozen/hundred times have I said that the next time I saw a work in progress? LOL!

When you draw, do you always start with a scaffold, like when beginning a drawing of a wobbly little calf?

I admire that you're posting everything you're doing. I've posted some of my recent trainwrecks, tho' embarassing to do so. But it's always next week that the easy painting will come together!

Cheers,,,,Mm

sixtyminuteartist said...

Melissa, Thanks for you comment. In response to your question, no, I don't usually start every painting with a drawing in this way. I usually start my paintings with a rough sketch using a mix of sap green and cadmium red. It is a pretty loose outline and roughing out of the main masses. I did this only as a demo--and I think it is a good approach for students who have taken some drawing classes and are looking to move into paint or are having problems with value control. It is a teaching exercise.

Jerry

prophet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Law said...

"As soon as you start to feel there is something in your painting that you do not want to change--or are not willing to change--then you are in trouble." This is SO TRUE, maybe the hardest lesson of all. If beginners can recognize this and overcome it, they'll progress so much faster. There's always the fear of not being able to improve it, or of making it worse--and that does happen, but usually things are improved by change. Even if not, that's how the learning happens! You're a wonderful teacher, thanks so much for all your efforts! And that Baby Calf was worth fighting for, that is a lovely image.

Shady Gardener said...

Wonderful outcome. Thank you for your many lessons. I can use them!

JMahorney said...

Thanks for the great lesson Jerry.
I'm so jealous of your students. If you were here in NC I'd sign up tomorrow. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi I knew to oil and painting and love all the information you are providing. Could ask one more favour?

How do you photograph your work for the web? Everytime I use my digital camera I get too much shine.

thanks!
Stuart

Melissa E. Keyes said...

Sap green and Cadmium, what a contrast! I love it. I'm going to try that combo, right now. Amazing.

sixtyminuteartist said...

Melissa, mix Sap Green and Cadmium Red in roughly equal parts until you get a brown mix--just slightly on the red side--rather than green. It makes a great "drawing color" that can also be used to bring down the intensity of colors toward neutrals. Let me know how it works. Jerry

Brittany said...

Hi,

I'm a French retired woman who lives in Brittany and likes reading your blog nearly everyday.

I'm a beginner and I'd love to have you as a teacher and as Mahorney puts it, if you were living in my town, I would sign up for painting lessons immediately.

Thank you for being so generous and helpful to painters all over the world.

Julie said...

I liked it better before you changed it. lol

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