In my schooling and post-school education, I’ve picked up all sorts of ways to approach a painting – and I’ve experimented with a lot them to various degrees of success. Early on I had a phase where I didn’t sketch or plan or anything, I just started into the blank canvas with full colors, correcting as I figured out what I wanted to paint – not a method I’d recommend. But you paint, you fail, you learn, and, nowadays, I’ve boiled down all that good experimentation and advice into a process that works pretty well for me.
I start with lots of sketches and thumbnails to determine what I want to paint and what the best composition will be – this is where all that experience doodling in grade school finally comes to fruition – then I pick the best one and do a small color study. Then I sketch it out again on canvas or illustration board and seal it with gesso or matte medium. I get the general color scheme scrubbed in with transparent colors, and try to match the overall atmosphere and color tone of the study, since those subtle gradients will be a pain to change once the detailed painting begins.
Then I start in on the fun stuff – the main figure comes first and I shift around from figure to figure as I get restless. At this point reference photos come into play as I put in the details – I try and keep them out of view up until I’ve got my sketch and colors finalized, so I don’t start slavishly copying them and lose the style and spontaneity of the preliminary work.
It’s taken a lot of practice to be able to transfer sketch to color study to final piece – and I’ve had quite a few paintings that looked so promising as little thumbnails that never quite made it to canvas unsullied. But the more I experiment the easier it becomes to get what’s in my head out there in reality – and isn’t that goal of every up and coming artist? It certainly was for me in 6th grade. So, way to go, 6th grade me, you’re doing it!