Starting a painting

Everyone knows how to start a painting, right? You take up your brush and begin–what’s the problem? Joking aside, if you want to create a sketch or study, that IS exactly how you start. That approach is fine until you want to create something more ambitious. If you intend to create a piece that’s large, complex, or both you need a different strategy.

Here is a painting in my Amusement Park series. This painting is almost done now but its early stage is typical of how I start a large and complicated painting. (Winner! is 40″ x 56.”)

The toned ground is raw umber oil paint mixed into lead-oil gesso. The tone ground is applied over a layer of white lead-oil gesso, which was applied over an acrylic ground. Because I like a smooth surface, I applied both oil layers with a scrapper. I also sanded all layers.

This process provides a smooth and slightly absorbent surface. If you’ve done lithography, you know how wonderful litho-stones are for drawing. This surface reminds me of that.

Next, I work up the drawing. On Winner! I used lead pencils but I’ve used charcoals on occasion.

The main decision point is determining how far I want to finish the drawing. Because I’ll cover the drawing with paint, I used to restrict the drawing to cartoons–simple outlines. These days I push the drawing further. By using transparent paint layers, I can incorporate the drawing into the final painting. I like the look of drawing elements peeking through the paint surface in the dark areas. I’ve never been interested in capturing surface textures so this approach works for me.

  4 comments for “Starting a painting

  1. when using an oil ground on top of acrylic gesso, how long do you wait for it to dry before you start painting?

  2. I wait three days after the first oil layer is down before proceeding with the second layer. I prepare canvases in batches so some of them can cure for several weeks before they see paint.

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