And now the disastrous and self-sabotaging process behind an Alterici oil painting (for this example I've documented the progress of a portrait commission):
Everything is fine at this stage, I'm usually not disappointed with the drawing stage, it's just too much fun. I can draw in my sleep, I love love love it, all confidence and excitement at this point.
Stage 2) Toning, not pictured.
I chose a bright red orange for the tone underneath this painting, just a thin wash of a bright bright color that will hopefully peak thru the final product and boost all the inevitably less saturated top colors. I started doing this for all my paintings, those tiny bits of a bright color peaking thru are exciting.
Now, most people would see this and think it doesn't look bad, just add some more details and it'll be great. But this is where I start to hesitate and start fighting with it, especially a portrait, I'm struggling to get those colors and details to match my source photo. When I start wanting to replicate colors from the photo I know I've screwed up. The only thing I should be using the reference photo for is likeness, especially since it was a cellphone photo with flash (not much to work from there) everything else has to be built up from what I know about figure drawing and color and values and balance, etc. And I've stumbled.
This might look horrifying compared to the last stage, but let me explain. Sometimes if I really hate what's happening in stage three, and I'm lucky enough to still have wet paint, I'll wipe it all away. Very aggressively. It's as close to starting over as I can get without ditching the painting all together.
There are several reasons I love wiping out a bad start; First, it releases frustration, the physical act of scrubbing a canvas is therapeutic in a way and allows me to collect my thoughts a bit. Second, this process also tends to create some subtle and interesting texture, I really love texture, and if the original tone (that brigh red orange!) starts to peep thru again well that just makes me all the more pleased. Third, it gives me a chance to redraw, and the more times you draw the subject the better you're going to get at drawing it. I've redrawn in pencil lightly, it doesn't make much of a mark and usually just scraps paint off in some areas, which I'm fine with. Finally, it allows me to rethink the values entirely. My main problem with the stage three version were the values. With all the lights and darks wiped away what's left is a pretty even playing ground. Everything is basically within the same 2-3 values steps and they tend not to be the darkest or lightest end of the value scale, which means I can go in now and apply the darkest and lightest values just where they're needed. Having attempted this once before I have a better idea of where they need to go, and I've indicated such in my redraw. And the same goes for color, the whole painting is washed out now, desaturated, and though there are some very interesting colors in those textures, from a distance it just looks like varying gray shades. It won't interfere with the colors on the next layers, as long and I balance the warm and cool shades.
So I ditched my old palette, washed the brushes of the old colors, set up a new palette and began blocking in lightly on top of the old color. I'm not too concerned about getting 100% coverage because I've mixed a palette compatible to the under painting, and if any shows through or starts to mix a bit, I'm not concerned. In fact, I might leave a good portion of the under painting untouched. My focus now is on value. My advisor in college told me if you get the value right, you can do whatever you want with color. And I certainly will.
After all the main colors have been blocked in I move through and find areas where a little detail can be added or an edge can be softened or a value corrected, etc. This painting isn't done yet obviously, the face and hands will get another pass or two. I'll probably be working on it over night, will post the final version later.
No question, this last stage is the hardest to step away from. Learning when to be done with a painting is tricky, I think most artists will tell you they know when a painting is finished only after they've gone one brush stroke too far, like, "Okay, yep. It was done a minute ago. "
Well that's all for today, hope you enjoyed this look into my process, hope it didn't scare you off from making your own art or anything like that.
EDIT: the final portrait. The detailing pass took about 3 hours, I waited for it to dry a bit more from this morning before tackling it again.