The April 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, Casey Baugh walks through his painting process step-by-step. View below.
Nonchalant (oil, 20×16)
I like to paint what fascinates me, and people are on the top of that list right now. However, I do believe that subject matter is only one small aspect of a solid, finished piece and requires the help of other elements such as composition, lighting, simplicity of stroke, good value and color ranges, and well-considered texture.
1. Pencil Thumbnails
I begin each painting with a concept or a setting I may have seen or conceived. In the earliest stages, I take the time to lay out a number of thumbnails in pencil. This way I can work out the whole of the composition by simplifying the potential scene down to mass and line. I draw several variations until one feels right. Sometimes I work for days, stripping away my scene to understand what exactly makes it work.
2. Small Study
Attending to the model, wardrobe and lighting, and rearranging the composition can take weeks. This is probably the most difficult part of the process for me, as there’s no exact science to it. When I’m satisfied with the composition and balance of the scene, I do a 5×4-inch painting to get a feel for the color and see what it will look like in paint. This first practice piece lets me work out any major potential problems before I start on a larger version.
3. Larger study
With my 16×12 studies—sometimes I do several—I test effects and colors to a greater degree and get a better feel for the composition. I also check reference photos of the scene and model on my computer monitor. After finishing this particular study, I felt that the scene cropping should be tighter and that the model should be looking directly at the viewer. Also the gray area at the lower left seemed a mirror image of the top left, so I decided to delete it.
I usually begin the actual painting with a thin, medium wash of the overall color harmonies, not unlike what you’d do for a watercolor. For this piece I eventually decided to use a larger, 20×16 canvas as it was very close to the 16×12 proportions of my study but would have more impact. I washed in with my medium (one part stand oil, one part damar varnish and five parts triple-rectified turpentine) in a cool gray-blue tone to serve as the backdrop and set the color harmony for the rest of the painting.
5. Suggesting the Figure
I dipped into my medium again to suggest the figure. I was careful to avoid the mistakes I’d identified in the 16×12 version while I re-created the strokes that I enjoyed from the practice piece. It was also important for me to keep the edges soft at this stage so I wouldn’t be distracted by them later. I wanted to maintain a fresh look while staying accurate with the color placement.
6. Correcting the Drawing
After laying in a rough block-in, I was able to step back and get a better idea of how the changes were looking. At this juncture I make most of my final corrections to the drawing as a whole and shift things around if needed (the paint is still very thin and easily manipulated). From this point on, I’ll use less of the medium and start making the finishing strokes with heavier paint.
7. Laying in Shapes
After roughing in most of the elements, I lay in shapes of value and color and work the drawing to a nearly completed stage. Next I go over parts of the wash with heavier strokes of paint to enhance the underpainting and pull it all together. I also begin thinking about how I might finish the painting. With this piece I wanted to preserve as much of the fresh block-in as possible but still tell enough of the story to make it work.
8. Working Toward Completion
With an almost dry brush, I added more washes and broad strokes of color. After working on the larger study, I’d decided to add a warm dark to the top right to strengthen the composition and broaden the color range. I know I’m finished when the result is a fresh combination of colors and strokes conveying my original feeling of excitement. At that point, I put my painting out of sight for several days. Later I pull it out to see it more objectively. If it still feels right, I sign it, as I did for Nonchalant (oil, 20×16).