Step One – What To Do Before You Paint

Have you ever watched a horse race?  Before entering the gate the horses are excited, they’ll prance and fidget in anticipation of the race.  I find myself like that before I start a new painting.  As I approach the white canvas it’s an exciting time of anticipation. 

To prep the canvas, I start with several layers of gesso and a large brush.  I want my brush stroke in this early stage to show through.  As my painting will capture a moment in time, my early brush strokes capture the rhythm of life.  

Once the canvas is prepped and the gesso has dried, it is time to thoroughly draw your preliminary sketch.  During this process, focus on the placement of the horizon line, the subject, and any other prominent characteristics.  Take some time to consider whether you want to sketch this free hand or with a projector. For many years I drew free hand, using only my pencil as a measuring device.  I believe drawing is a very important aspect to producing good work and it fine tunes your skill.  However, due to time and quick accuracy, I now use a projector for the rough outline of my subject.  This allows you to easily adjust the size without wasting time. Thereafter it’s free handed. 

The initial drawing should only be the essentials of the painting.  You’re looking for the correct placement, size and balance of objects – nothing more. You should establish the vanishing point, visualize maximizing the depth perspective, light source, time of day, weather, background, foreground, your color palette, and texture.  This does not need to be drawn out, but should be in your mind’s eye. 

Once you’ve settled, take a mirror and look at the reflection of the piece.  Are you pleased?  Do you know where you’re going?  If you have any concerns, this is the best time to address them.


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