Blood Magic: Lessons Learned
Over the holidays I painted a commercial assignment in what I call my New Style (improvisational, emotional, painterly, unresolved). The piece was large (~30″x40″), painted in acrylics on illustration board. I’m not at liberty to share the complete image yet, but here are some notes I took at the end of the process:
1. REFERENCE: I took reference photos for the main figure, but printed them out in black & white at low resolution. That was insufficient. When I printed them out large and in color, at high resolution, they solved lots of difficulties I was having.
2. TENSION: When I deviate from my reference, I struggle to make convincing decisions. On the other hand, when I conform to my reference, I struggle to keep the dynamism of the sketch. There’s a tension between reference and sketch that I must anticipate and constantly observe in future paintings. Part of the excitement and freedom of painting in this new way means accounting for such challenges in real-time. I don’t know that they can all be solved through preparation. The success of this way of painting is a direct result of this struggle.
3. LIGHTING: Where preparation does make a huge difference is in lighting. That’s the primary issue I wrestle with when improvising. I find dramatic, convincing lighting is almost impossible to invent fully. In future, I must get good, consistent lighting reference on all the main elements of the piece, and limit invention to under 50%. Referenced lighting must sell the lighting for things which are invented.
4. SKETCH: A solid sketch is helpful, not just in preparation, but as a reminder, when I’m neck-deep in painting, of how the piece is intended to feel. When the painting gets stale, pull out the sketch and compare. I did some additional sketches mid-way through this piece to loosen up my eye and hand. It helped re-ground me… helped me be decisive when pushing the painting away from the reference.