Friday, September 23, 2011

The Evolution of a Painter and the Stages of Painting Part I - Initial drawing and composition

"Twisted" (drawing stage)
Mark Nesmith
Charcoal on canvas
18" x 24"
Recently I've had a few people ask about my painting techniques and process, and while I don't believe any of my methods are really unusual, I'm happy to share what I know.  First let me say that I have at one point or another explored just about every painting technique out there.  I spent a period early on working on a detailed, tonal underpainting or grisaille, similar to the techniques of the old masters.  This taught me the importance of tonal values.  Then I became enamored with Cezanne's brick-like stroke and spent a year painting large canvases of figures in the landscape.  I learned how a paint stroke could indicate planes, and the importance of positive and negative space.  A couple of years later I was painting entirely with palette knives and focusing on large masses of color.  I did countless studies using a grey card to isolate colors and learn how they interact and affect our perception of neighboring hues.  After moving to Dallas I worked in an abstract, almost non-objective manner for awhile.  I was painting images inspired by satellite photographs of the earth and other planets by pouring and dripping thin layers of paint.  I re-discovered the beauty of thin, transluncent veils of color.  I then abandoned oil painting for a few years and only worked in pastels.  To this day I believe most of my understanding of color in a painting comes layering strokes of soft pastels. I gradually returned to "realism" and to the Texas landscapes that have always resonated with me.  When I came back to oil painting a couple of years ago, all of those years of exploration and discovery were absorbed and combined in a very intuitive and natural process.

I generally prefer starting on a toned canvas, usually something in the orange, yellow, or red family.  I love the complex interplay of the undertones showing through thin glazes (what alot of painters refer to as a "glowing" quality.)  Most of the time I'll do a simple charcoal drawing to set the basic composition.  For this painting of a twisted Juniper tree at Caprock Canyon I made a fairly detailed drawing.  Many painters complete their initial drawing in thinly diluted paint (I used to do the same), but I prefer charcoal for a couple of reasons: it's quick and very natural to my hand, and as I paint I can make changes very easily. The charcoal smudges and erases easily.  It essentially vanishes under (or into) the paint, so I don't feel tied down to the drawing.  I don't like feeling like I'm completing a paint-by-numbers canvas.  I generally only draw the shapes of colors and values, not so much detail.  Most of the time my drawing stage looks more like the mountain in the background than the tree up front.

Sometimes I'll start painting right away, but with this painting I let it sit for a week or two.  I've been wavering on the composition.  I really wanted to emphasize the twisted, contorted shape of the tree in the foreground.  I wanted it to seem a bit claustrophobic, almost as if the very air around it is forcing it into this agonizing form.  I often attach human traits to elements of the landscape, and while I rarely place people in my landscape paintings I generally feel that elements like this tree add a figurative touch.  I also tried to play up the gentle repetition of shapes found between the slope of the mountain and the curve of the tree trunk.  I went back and forth for awhile about whether or not the tree needed more space around it, but ultimately decided I like the cramped feeling.  It seems to really play up the twisted nature of the Juniper, and more and more the tree reminds me of someone kneeling down to pray, seeking relief from its pain and suffering.

1 comment:

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