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Finishing a Painting

12 / 05 / 14

Aw man, it’s been a bit too long since I last posted… I’ve been working on several large paintings that require a lot of effort and planning, so I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned about finishing a painting.  Many (although not all) of the classes at LCAD focus on doing as many paintings/drawings as possible and more often than not, a painting will be completed in a single day.  While this Alla Prima approach is incredibly valuable to building skills and learning at a fast pace, there is also a place for more finished work.  After all, most significant representational paintings hanging in museums were done in more than one day, and the high degree of finish is, to me, one of the reasons such paintings are captivating.  That being said, there are many different degrees of finish and everybody has their own goals.  An Alma-Tadema or Bouguereau is typically more faithfully rendered and smooth than, say, a Sargent, so it is important to have an idea of what degree of finish one wants for their painting.  I tend to gravitate more towards artists like Alma-Tadema in that I liked painting that are very refined and detailed.  Although this synopsis glosses over a lot of important information, the process I have arrived at thus far (which also often changes) is as follows:  careful linear drawing on canvas, imprimatura, loose opaque first pass, and form painting.  I’ve attached a series of images loosely cataloguing the progression of one of my paintings in order of this process.  The drawing takes a significant amount of time, but if I am careful, it ensures that I don’t have any nasty proportional issues or surprises later in the painting.  The imprimatura is a thin wash of raw umber roughly modulated to describe the forms in the painting, but it more practically a method of toning the canvas something other than white; it is usually easier to judge big value relationships (a necessary ability especially in more complex paintings) against a toned ground.  The first pass is the primary way to establish my values and colors.  The goal is to have the painting essentially look finished from far back, but it is quickly and loosely executed so as to keep the whole picture in mind.  The more one focuses in on specifics, the more difficult it is to bear in mind the entire picture, so I find it helpful to paint a looser, more abstracted pass in opaque paint to quickly establish all of these relationships before chasing particulars.  After covering the whole painting in this way, I slowly and methodically repaint the entire picture with far more attention to specificity and making a convincing illusion of form.  Anthony Ryder has a great portion of his website that explains how I think of form painting much more adequately than I can do here: http://tonyryder.com/demo/index.htm .  I am still in the midst of repainting several figure in the painting and some of the images are really bad, but the following progression of photos should give some insight into how I approached this project.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10