July - Artistic Process
Jul 28, 2020
Many people ask me about my artistic practice. It almost seems to some that an artwork is magically created out of an artists natural born talent and vision. Well maybe some are, but I know a lot of artists who start out by just having an observant eye, a love of drawing and a need to recreate what they see in the world. It takes years of practice, study and understanding of their subject matter to be able to paint an artwork which captures the subject and the feeling of a moment in time.
The main questions I am asked are: How do you get from the idea stage to a finished artwork? Do you make it up from your imagination? Do you copy it from a photo? The answer to this is yes and no. Most artworks take a bit of imagination, a bit of photography, a bit of habitat study, a bit of experience and a bit of unplanned luck or oopsies.
Every artist is different, and every artwork is different, so this is just an example of the start to finish of one of my artworks.
I chose the artwork 'Angophora Gossip' - Rainbow Lorikeets, as this example. It is painted with Winsor and Newton oil paint on canvas.
The finished artwork.
This is a photograph that I took in the Awabakal Nature Reserve in Dudley, Newcastle. It is the branches of one of the many beautiful gnarly, twisted, Angophora trees along the path as you head towards the heathland and the bluff. This photo doesn't quite capture the feeling of the time, but at least it captures the shape of the branches and some of the lighting that I remember. I know not to ever truly rely on the photographs to capture the colouring or lighting exactly, so I really try make sketches, write a description and also try to make a mental note of it.
These leaves are from the same area of bushland. As you can see there is a lot more colour in this photograph. Do you notice the blue light reflected on the leaves in shade, and the lime green of the leaves with the sun shining through them. What about the purpley branches in the shadows on the left side of the photo?
Above: A few photos of Rainbow Lorikeets that I have taken. Look at the difference in colour of the birds between the photographs. Both have a very different feel.
When planning an artwork I draw upon my encounters I have had with the environment and the species. I try and imagine the time and place, and the general feeling that I want to portray. I then trawl through my photographs of the habitat and birds and get a feel for the species. If I still feel like I need to get to know the bird more, I will then trawl through google images to help get a greater sense of the shape, colours and their personality.
Once I feel satisfied, I begin the sketching part of the process in my sketchbook, or if I only have my phone at the time, I will use the drawing tool to get my ideas down.
Once I feel I have the idea in a general sense I then draw with a whiteboard marker on the plastic canvas wrap or draw with a pencil onto the canvas to get an idea of the scale. This is very rough at this stage. Sometimes I get to this part of the process and put it aside for a few days or weeks if I don't feel that it is right and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes I get straight into it because it feels good and I just can't wait to get started on it.
This was one of those artworks that I jumped right into and hoped for the best! The voice inside my head said 'here goes nothing!'
I sketched onto the canvas wrap once I had done a few sketches in my sketchbook.
Using a photograph of the above image I added some colour and details with the aid of my phones drawing tool, just to do a quick check of the design.
To start with I blocked in lots of paint to get coverage over the canvas. It is very rough at this stage as the aim was to get as much of the feel of the atmosphere and colour down by checking in with inspiration photos and my own gut feeling of where I wanted the light, dark and colours. I work quickly and spontaneously, if I think too much I can lose track of the feeling and colours that I want to capture.
Whilst the paint was still wet I sketched in the shape and positioning of the birds. I like to do it at this stage as I feel the wet paint lends itself to being moved about and altered as I make some more adjustments. I also like the idea that the birds are partly made up of the background colours, so it feels like they have emerged out of the forest. At this stage I work a lot slower and deliberately, focusing on composition and posture of the birds.
After a couple of days, once the paint is dry to touch, I begin blocking in solid colour in the birds. I start with the darkest and boldest and then work my way towards the lighter colours.
I also started to add shadows, light and colour to the branch to create its form.
I find this stage less stressful than the previous as I now know where things are and I can then get into adding the beautiful colours of the birds and branch.
After allowing more drying time, I continued to increase the shadowing and detail on the branch. Then added the yellows, greens and highlights to the feathers and painted in face details of the birds.
I also added detail to the background and added small branches and leaves to the middle ground.
At this stage I keep checking the lighting and its direction. The position of highlights and shadows is so important in bringing the foreground forward and creating the three dimensional effect.
To finish the artwork off I added bark detail, highlights and reflected light to the bottom side of the branch. Then I added more detail and shadowing to the leaves and I finished off the birds feet.
I hope this answers questions that you may have. I am also happy to answer any further questions!
I will be drawing the winner of the fine art print of this very same artwork on the 1st of August. If you have received this email, it means that you are already in the draw to win.