Sometimes I will have a very clear idea for a painting, others I will have no idea and just go with the flow. This painting was the latter.
I start off my painting by roughing in a sketch, not really paying attention to line quality or any really small details. I use this stage mostly to figure out my composition. I said I didn't have a clear idea for this painting, but what I did know is I wanted to paint a women with some kind of mask.
After playing around somewhat with the rough sketch I felt like some parts of my composition weren't working and decided to change things up a bit before getting to this stage. In the final sketch I pay a lot more focus on details and clean line work. I have an obsession with making my lines as neat as possible, which is pretty redundant considering they very rarely show in my final painting. I guess I have a love for clean line work, and even if it doesn't stay around forever, I enjoy doing it!
Always use proper reference
Just a side note at this stage. I don't always use reference, although I probably should. I do however always reference my characters and the anatomy, but for this I figured I've drawn enough rocks in my time that I didn't need to. I was wrong. In the rough sketch the rock's shape just wasn't working and I didn't know why. It actually got to the point where I had to give up for that evening and come back to it the next day because I was so frustrated. However, I decided I should use proper reference and then threw this rock together in a matter of minutes. So always reference when able!
I almost always work from background to foreground. It just makes sense to me. so the first part I tackle in a painting is almost always the sky. If I can get the sky right, I can get the lighting and mood for the whole piece almost right from the beginning. So at this stage I block in the rough values focusing on a separation between the elements of my painting. At this stage it is important to define your three value groups. Dark tones, light tones and mid tones. So my sky is the light tone, the rock is the dark tone, and the character is my mid tone. I would normally have the focal point as the darkest set against the lightest or vice versa, but what's the point in there being rules if you can't break them right?
So I'm still just painting in black and white at this stage. I sometimes don't stick with it this long and will move to colour, but I felt like it was important to fully bring the forms out on this piece before getting into colour. From the last stage I start build shapes and sculpting the forms with painted values.
It was at about this point where the idea for the piece struck me. She already has masks, and by turning her hair into smoke I could start seeing the idea that she was the lady of disguise. I like using symbolism in my work. It doesn't always come to me right away, and sometimes just comes out naturally whilst I am painting. These art pieces where I don't have a clear idea are often my most natural looking pieces, because I am just painting for the sheer enjoyment.
This is where things get interesting. I have adopted the technique of using adjustment layers and gradient masks for adding colour to my paintings. It enables me to have a clear set of colours I want to use for my piece and the implement them to work well with the values I have already preselected. I build up a series of adjustment layers ranging from gradient masks, levels adjustments and hue/saturation adjustment layers. Once I have a clear colour palette going I will then sometimes use hard light or soft light layers to bring out some more of the colours. In this case I used a hard light layer to brush in the skin tone colours as well as colour blend mode layers to get the colour for her clothing. I build these up almost like colour washes.
Once I have my colour palette I can work on the smaller details and bring it to a final.
This painting process is not original. It is one I have developed over time through experimentation and taking influence from other artists. I enjoy seeing the way other artists work, and finding ways to incorporate some of their techniques into my own work flow, and I hope you might feel the same about the way that I work.