Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Retribution Road Progression

Retribution Road Progression

This next painting was one of those spur of the moment happenings that sort of just painted itself. Well, I'd like to think that I helped, but really this guy came together so perfectly, I couldn't have asked for a more cooperative project. I started just blindly painting with no idea what I was drawing. In this case, it was the wizard looking guy. The rest just grew around him.

The basic theme, once I figured out what was going on in the painting, is just a bit of commentary on the topic of retribution. The characters are all us at one point in time or another, whether it be the lone wolf obsessed with seeking private vengeance or the angry mob plowing to whatever fate no matter what the truth of the situation is, or the clear thinking person for whom the way out of retribution road is clear. The others, however, have no interest in that...they have their own agendas and will thus repeat more of the same. I guess its about the vicious cycles we can get stuck in through the course of everyday life.

Of course, it's up to you to decide what this may mean to you, but that was the premise of what I was going for.

But enough of that, let's have some process!

I have to describe steps one and two as I wasn't taking pictures when I completed those phases. First, I gesso the canvas, but I do it a somewhat unconventional way. I lay out gesso alongside some raw umber oil-based paint on what is supposed to be a masterson acrylic sta-wet palettte (a piece of paper works fine too). I grab a lot of gesso and a little oil paint and apply evenly with a 2" Purdy.

This is to get as even of a coat as possible. I cross-hatch and blend until I get wisps of umber on a light brown to white surface. Do this very quickly and in moderate tempeatures if you can. Once it starts drying, you must stop working and wait until it does to prevent dragging. A couple drag marks is acceptable and give it a little character, but you don't want it to look like slop.

This process is to give the background a little variety so the canvas doesn't start out quite so sterile.

I will have to do a blog on that process, as it is different from what you'll find online. Those generally use acrylic paint and they create a more even color of gesso. Mine turns out streaky and uneven. They also recommend lighter tans than dark umber brown. It makes a mess of brushes and is an all-around pain. Why do I do it this way? Well, so that I start with some type of texture to work around and also so that I insert some senxse of flaw into the piece.

My thinking is that this simulates having an organic material to work from rather than a flat monochrome surface. Think of it as similar to purchasing a fine slab of lumber for a project. Even high grade natural materials have some sort of blemish, shape, strength limitation, etc that must be considered that an artist will have to work around, so in a way I'm intentionally placing an obstacle on the canvas. Thinner paints won't want to stick to this area, and even though it can be covered with gesso, it provides a starting point for my brain to start molding and shaping my design.

I guess I'm trying to subliminally tell my brain "start here."

Part of it is that I design most of my paintings on the fly with little to no (usually no) sketchwork. I start drawing directly in paint and usually have a loose definition of what I want to paint. The more rigid the confines of my project, the more rigid I tend to paint and things start looking flat and bland. So you may not want to choose this gesso method if you prefer having a better structure and more control in your art. For my purposes, I've found it more beneficial than cumbersome, so there you have it.

This first photo is about three steps into the actual painting process. First, I draw the entire painting in a super light layer of raw sienna thinned with turpentine. Sometimes I'll mix in textures on the canvas using a palette knife and titanium white (full body), or some pumice additive you can get at the art store (though I usually do pumice layers later than this), depending on how textured I plan on painting. That is pretty tricky and requires several weeks of drying time, so I'll skip on that for now. The key is to get all your shapes as complete as you can before you even think of setting them in stone after steps 3 and 4.

Once I have most of the shapes in, I start filling in some areas with raw umber to darken them up as I continue to fill in the rest of the raw sienna phase. Most of my canvas will end up having either raw sienna or white on it (never bare gesso). Then I thin some alizarin crimson with turpentine (you can use the non toxic if you don't have proper ventilation), and apply thin layers over the monochrome brown base. This will be the light layers in this particular painting.

That is where the first photo would have been taken. One final note on that step is that I now use powdered pigment for this first layer. Raw sienna is notoriously crappy paint when you buy it premixed and this first part will go 10x quicker if you invest $40 in a set of dry pigment and some linseed oil. Now, this stuff is toxic as hell, so be damned sure you can perform the mixing where your station is. I wear a respirator and nitrile gloves when I mix, and this stuff can easily become airborne. That said, if you have the capabilities, I highly recommend this method.

Next, I do the same for the darks using Pthalo Blue (or winsor blue if you buy their paints). I continue to blend in the "light" with the "dark", creating some purples on the way, but always thinned with turpentine. You can also thin with linseed oil at this point if you want. You can even play around with combinations of those plus alkyd mixtures or liquin. Anyway, whatever you use, these layers need to be transparent. You have to have the layers underneath show through or you will have to repeat the process in certain areas and that is when you start taking points off the quality in the final outcome.

At this stage is where I first start mixing. On the dirt road, I used a raw sienna and cadmium orange mixture, and I start slowly working in that color in the spots that need it. Again, we still haven't put a drop of solid paint since the gesso step.

More of the same. By this point, I'm starting to re-apply the darker browns in the trees. I use a lot of cadmium orange in my paintings. It is a background color that the eye naturally rarely catches, but its out there as a necessary component of what we see. There are several colors like this, and when I paint, I use them in the background a lot to provide some depth to the final colors when I begin applying them later on.

Moving along.

 This next photo I am getting to the greens. A lot of them are just an end result of the raw sienna and pthalo plue with a little yellow here and there, but the majority of it is sap green. I use sap green as the middle ground green for most plant and tree work.

As you can tell, I pretty much suck at drawing leaves, so I have to get creative. I'll sometimes use a fan for grasses applied heavily, and sometimes I'll use sponges. For this one, it is largely sap green + Black for the darks over the winsor blue and raw umber underpainting, then sap mixed with like some titanium white and some naples yellow. You'll have to play around with it.

It can be very tough to get the greens in your painting to "get along" and once you add the wrong blue-based green or too much yellow you will have to stop and wait for it to dry and restart that area. Play around with it though and you'll figure it out.

Another trick I'll do is get some cheapo 99-cent-er canvas and do a study of just the palette you are using. You can actually just get one canvas and regesso it (unless you want to archive your studies like I do), but it's user preference. Anyway, I'll go through that when I get into a later painting I used this method for, but you basically mix all the potential colors in blue/green/reds...whatever color you're studying and hand pick the mixtures you want by eye. This will ensure you have color harmony in your mixes and can be a valuable asset to a painting's cohesion. A color wheel helps too. Simple, right?

Here we are about to the end. This is before I've put on the last touches and sealed the painting. A general rule-of thomb is that you want your darkest areas to blend in smoothly, so paint them soft and don't make a lot of sharp edge, This flattens them. You can also flatten dark areas by roughing up the texture of the paint so that not as much light reflects off those areas.

I don't mean scratch up your painting when its done, I mean to add a pumice textured gel or even create a faux texture using some fat titanium white and various brushes and sponges. This scatters the light, which is the enemy of dark areas on your works.

This, of course, has to be pre-planned into a painting and done before you start coloring, but it is an effective way of drawing the eye away from the dark paint.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you want to draw the eye towards the lighter areas of the canvas. This makes them seem "on top" of the canvasas what your eyes naturally see is light bouncing off an object. I do this by mixing linseed stand oil with whatever base color I'm highlighting. In the leaves, it's titanium white, sap green, and naples yellow. In the road, it's naples yellow, cadmium orange, and white. You can do this however you want, but it should be pretty light, almost white even. This give it an almost gel-like texture and makes the paint super smooth so the surface reflects the maximum amount of light.

Then you want to further draw the eye towards the action in the canvas. It was something I thought about working on as I wrapped this one up.Overall, I think it's not too bad, but I'd like to have a little less detail in the periphery.

Retribution Road
Oil on Canvas, 2011

Here is the final sealed painting. I have a tough time photographing paintings as the camera lens always bows and warps the image somewhat. You can have your paintings scanned, but they don't do that for free....unless you buy like $500 worth of copies! Otherwise it's $125 to $150 depending on where you go. Yeah, so that's not exactly cost-effective, but I'll eventually get better at photographing, so here's to hoping!

That about wraps up today in bookworm.

Thanks for looking!

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