Question: How important is the pre-planning stage of your work? When you start painting, is it in a more detailed and accurate fashion, then lose the information, or vise versa?
At the risk of being wishy-washy, I would have to say that I do it both ways. The short answer to how much pre-planning I do is none. If you look at the main dome in the progressive demo for “Sacre Coeur, Paris”, I established it very early on in the process, and left it untouched right through to the end. Other parts of the painting, however went from being very suggestive to being firmed up with detail and hard edges, only to be wiped out again with paper towel or a large brush.
I don’t do a lot of still life, but this genre would probably be the only time where I do any pre-planning at all. Even then, the planning is exclusively done in the arranging of the objects, not in the execution of the painting. I prefer to dive right in with the painting, introducing the full range of values and colour intensity right from the start. From there it’s a constant battle to keep things fresh and painterly, while at the same time, integrating the figure/ground relationships so that nothing looks cut out and pasted own. I also try to be mindful not to over-blend, so as to avoid an overly misty and ethereal look.
Nothing lends to a fresh, spontaneous painting quite like transparent paint does, and no medium exploits the beauty of transparent paint like watercolour does. Having worked for years with watercolour before getting serious with oils, I find it has had a significant influence on how I approach oil painting. Obviously there is no pre-planning for a little five minute watercolour sketch like this. When working this way, it’s all about sacrifices in drawing and composition, but these sacrifices are worth it for what you get back in freshness and spontaneity.
There’s a myth among students that opaque media like oil and acrylic are easier to use and much more forgiving than transparent, water- based media. I don’t think this is true. Granted, you always have the option to scrape and start again with oil, I feel it’s always best when you can achieve the effect you want in the first pass, regardless of medium. In the detail of the painting “New York Sun”, I painted the side of the taxi with a large knife in a single slow but confident stroke. Again, as in the watercolour wash, what’s sacrificed in good drawing is more than made up for in freshness and exciting paint quality.
Not Being Precious:
The distant buildings in the detail of “Montreal Turquoise Rain” went through many manifestations and levels of detail before I settled on this. That’s not to say I’m satisfied with the end result, but years of experience have taught me that virtually any part of a painting is improved by boldly blasting through an area with lots of painstaking details with a large flat brush to simplify it. Have I ever scraped or wiped away an area and immediately regretted it? Absolutely! This is the price you pay taking the approach I do to painting. That’s why I almost never go back and touch up a painting I have deemed finished. I’d rather scrap it and start again. Charles Reid once said that when he feels that a painting he’s working on is going really well, he worries that the end result will be disappointing. This happens to me all the time.
When I’m really excited about a painting that’s only a quarter way done, I inevitably get too precious about it and everything becomes tight and contrived.
It was very difficult to leave the distant musicians in “Symphony Three” in such a state of “unfinish”, but I knew it was worth sacrificing them to allow the one violinist in the lower center to be the focal area. I guess it all depends on what we deem most important in our work. When I look at it now, the draftsman in me wants to go back and paint eyes and fingernails on all the musicians, while the designer in me knows that the overall painting is better for leaving them be.
All painting comes with a certain degree of struggle, no matter how much experience you have. I find this struggle is magnified when trying to compose ambitious aerial paintings. Even with these, however, I try to avoid too much pre-planning. It used to be I would never begin a large ambitious painting without doing numerous value studies and a small oil sketch. In recent years I’ve gone away from that, as I found that I was using up all my spontaneity on the sketch. I now find it best to work out my compositional problems right on the surface, usually beginning with a monochrome wash of value patches. No lines. I then work from front to back, introducing the full value range right from the start, to be able to judge relative values right away. All the while I’m painting in details, and scrubbing them out, all with the intention of losing edges and consolidating values.
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We are excited to announce that Mark will be our September judge for Art Muse Contest.