28 Aug 2012

How do you work?

"The reason that art (writing, engaging, and all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can't tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there'd be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map." - Seth Godin

Today I thought I would blog about how I get a sketch ready to paint. I'm always curious about other artist's workflows and I would love to hear how you work too. Feel free to leave a comment here.
I have two ways of working when I sketch.

If the sketch itself is the focus I tend to focus on the detail. I draw out my rough sketch first and then refine the shapes and add the details as I go. Shading and crosshatching to bring out the form. All the drawing is my own work with no shortcuts.

If the painting is my main focus I only draw in an outline of the basic subject and paint in the detail as I go. If it is a landscape I may even just start straight into the painting and just roughly guess the scale as I paint. But if the painting is of something detailed that really needs to be in proportion I might even go as far as to trace an outline of the subject from my photograph just to get it done quicker because the sketch itself was never the focus of the work. (I'm even more likely to do this if I've already painted a small scale version and just want to quickly start on the full size piece. It's sheer laziness really but I drew it once already so why do I have to start from scratch again? I learned to work this way at school.)
I know this may sound like cheating and I guess it is in a way, but I know plenty of other painters that work this way. Some absolutely hate to draw or can't draw and the painting is the art for them. Some even project their image outline onto their canvas using projectors, or print it out and trace an outline onto the canvas that way instead. I can understand people working on huge over-sized pieces working with a projection, you'd spend a lot of time running backwards and forwards checking your scale and proportions otherwise. 

Below is an example of an outline that I would use to paint from. It's darker than I would usually draw it so that it would show up here. Just before I painted it I erased the pencil down to just a light marking, how I would usually have it marked out. The image above is of the finished bird.

As you can see it's just an outline of the bird's shape. A lot tidier than it would usually look because I darkened up the outline and you can't really see the other rough wobbly lines. I work on all the birds the same way regardless of colorings or markings on them. The details I just paint in as I go.

Something else I do is, when I'm working with watercolor paint I mix up all the colors I want to work with before I start to paint. When I'm working with acrylics I mix as I go.

So, how do you work when you're setting up a painting? Do you have any tips or shortcuts you would like to share here? I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great week :)


  1. I thought you sketch more like me, and what I see is only a ghost of the sketch. I would have some problems to put color later, I prefer to have the shape more defined at the sketch phase. Even if I sketch using the brush.

  2. Surprise :) I thought this might be an interesting subject to talk about.
    I do sketch like you if the sketch is going to be the finished product. When it comes to painting though I need just the basic idea of either the shape of the subject or the scale and layout of the scenery and I fill in the blanks with the paint.
    Wait until I write a blog about my half haired paint brushes and other things I use to apply the paint. Even the way I apply the paint could be an interesting blog, splatter, splodge, scumble lol ;)

  3. I am waiting :) And as I said, I prefer to have more detailed sketches to not get lost.
    It changed a bit in my acrylic painting, where the preliminary sketch is already invisible and the painting became the sketch for itself.
    Until I finish it it stays the sketch