How To Paint A Painting? Step One: Deciding What To Paint

how to paintOften people wonder how long it takes to take a painting and what the step are involved in the process. And the answer to how long it takes to paint any painting is a lifetime. In that every painting we have completed follows on the learnings we have learned in our past paintings. No painting would be possible without the skill and knowledge learned through the previous years of painting. And while the actual physical time it takes to create a work of art varies, and is in some ways unpredictable. I hope in this series of articles to show the steps involved in the creative process.A few of which I think most people are unaware of. 

Before an artist puts paint to canvas, there is an important first step that occurs, and that is deciding what to paint. This might seem easy, but in reality it is often one of the most time consuming parts of creating. 

For me, because I paint a painting over a series of weeks and months, and my best creative time is at night, I work off photographs. When I get the urge to paint a new group of paintings, I will look at my existing photographs taken in my studio. If nothing is speaking to me, I will then setup a photo shoot. I do this in my studio so that I can control the light and the environment. My work intentionally has a side that is more well lit, and one that is not. And during the photo shoot we will play with how close and how far away the model is to the light source, and the angle of the camera, to change the intensity and the variety of shadows on the human body. Using a tri-pod, a digital camera and a model, I take up to 500 shots before I am done. 

The next day I comb through the 500 shots and delete any that don’t work for me, that I don’t like, that are blurry because the model moved in the low light setting, or that are under lit. I also delete anything that is very similar to another shot that is a slightly better angle or better shadow play on the subject. This process generally nets me about 200 photos to continue combing through.

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Sometimes because of the angle of the camera when I took the shot, the shot will look better when cropped. So this is where I being to digitally crop photos and possibly play with the lighting of the image. Once I’m done with this process, I have approximately 50-80 pictures that feel interesting enough for me to print. 

I then print these photos so that I have a visual, tangible image to work with. These are the group of images I will then work off of whenever I am looking for inspiration, or decide to paint from. 

In terms of looking through my now set of prints to determine what inspires me, often there is a feeling I am wishing to evoke. Or I have been told by clients I wish you would do this or this. Or this type of pose would finish the story of these three other paintings, etc. So my selection of what to paint is often a combination of the story and emotions I wish to tell with the new group of paintings, combined with the feedback I hear from those viewing my art about the story they would wish to see completed. 

When I do a commission of someone, the process is the same but on a slightly smaller scale, as we generally have more of a focus for the photo shoot. I take pictures in a variety of settings if the client isn’t entirely sure what type of pose they are looking for, and then initially comb through 100-200 pictures together (to delete any immediately that the client might not be comfortable with). And then discuss which images they might like. I will then do the fine tuning of images, and return with anywhere from 2-5 images for the client to look through and then decide on a final image to sign off on. 

All in all this process can take anywhere between 20 and 40 hours. And isn’t something most people think about when they ask about painting. 

If an artist is working off a still painting, or a live model, the process is a little different. In that there is setup time for the still. Or setup time for the model, followed by many breaks the model needs to take. But in general, there is always going to be time and thought put into what someone is painting and why. And the story they are wishing to convey through their art.

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