Today, as you may see on one of my oil painting DVD I want to have a chat about how to start a painting. And, a lot of art instructors, a lot of artists make a big deal about starting paintings a particular way because it is going to guide you through the painting process. And although there is some truth to that, I think the bigger, important picture is lost. I think what is really important is how you finish the painting and how the painting looks when it is done. And, it is true that different starting techniques will guide you in a certain direction, more not so much because they are specifically designed to do that as much as it is the philosophy behind why they do those particular starts. For example, a line drawing is how many people start and there are many different ways to do a line drawing and I will demonstrate a few of these very quickly in a few minutes. A line drawing is where you will go through, either with a piece of charcoal or a pencil and you can also do it with paint. You will draw every element and do an outline of every element and that is what we call line drawing. And the point of that one is because drawing is so difficult at first, when you first begin to paint, that you need some way to manage the complexity of all of that drawing particularly in a complicated still life or figure, or portrait or even a landscape. So, that is the point of a line drawing. Now there are a lot of different ways to do a line drawing. You can put it on lightly with thinned paint, I have seen people do the whole thing in charcoal and then come back and paint over it, the advantage and the disadvantage of that is it becomes a sort of paint by numbers kit and you simply go in a fill in the spaces with the different colors. That makes it pretty easy but it also loses some of the artistic flow of the whole painting. I think a lot of the hyper realist painters paint this way, at least some of the ones I have seen do. Okay, so that is the line drawing and there are a whole bunch of ways to get the lines on the canvas. You can trace them, I have seen people buy projectors and they project it on or you can grid off the whole canvas and grid off a photograph and transfer it all that way to get the drawing just right. And, don’t misunderstand me. I am not knocking this technique. I think this is a pretty good technique. It is just that the limitation of it is that you will have a tendency to want to paint up to the lines and then you leave the lines and the painting will have more of a cut out look about it rather than a painting that has a feeling of flowing. There is not a problem with tracing or projecting. I have seen people blow up their photograph to exactly the size of the canvas, they will take it to Kinko’s or some sort of print place and then they will get transfer paper which is kind of like carbon paper for us old timers and they will just lay the picture down on top of the transfer paper and then just trace it onto the canvas and it instantly transfers it on to the canvas. It does help to do this but it is not a cure all and I’ll tell you why. As soon as you start painting, those lines will probably be obliterated and disappear and the drawing will start to go off so you will end up having to fix it and draw it anyway. The advantage is that you will at least have some sort of a starting point to where you can work from that. Now Sergeant, he would do a line drawing but later in his career, he would just make a couple of little marks like where the eyes would go, and the chin would go and a couple of other important things and that was all he needed and he would start painting. A lot of other people will try to sketch the whole thing out and get a sense of size and proportion and then wipe off and do that over and over. I prefer, when I am doing that, I will generally take a photograph of what I am going to paint and then I will play with it in Photoshop or one of those types of programs, I prefer Paint Shop Pro 7, it is a little bit easier to use, and I will get it exactly to the size and proportion I want and then I will stretch a canvas that size if I don’t already have one. And then, if I find it complicated I will just look at my computer screen at the measurements and see exactly where a key element is and maybe mark two or three little spots on my canvas that tell me where these elements belong. It doesn’t really fix the drawing but it works for determining the placement. Often people have more of a problem with placement than drawing.
I have noticed from looking at students paintings over years and years of teaching that they have a tendency to put everything either too high or too low on their canvas even when I show them a photograph of how I might have painted it they say “oh yes, that’s how I want to do it” but when they went to do the placement it was off. So placement I believe is even a bigger issue than drawing for most of the artists I work with. Okay, that is line drawing.