When I was a younger lad, all fresh out of art school, I remember being all about speed. I was obsessed with banging out paintings as quickly as possibleYou, rushing through them almost as if it was a race or something.
Some of it was likely a leftover byproduct of the conditioning we receive in school, where were told again and again that you need to be fast to make it as an illustrator. I also started school late and have always felt this need to make up for lost time I spent screwing off.
But something I eventually come to realize in this quest to be fast and economical I’d been missing out on this whole other aspect and approach to painting. The long game.
For a good many years, I’d often paint things in one, sometimes two passes, almost always working wet in wet and rarely painting back into stuff. Part of it was out of fear that I’d lose freshness and spontaneity. Some of it was this idealized notion that a painter is supposed to just dash paintings off quickly and effortlessly (never got that last part nailed down)
Working like this can be beneficial in some ways. It allows you to cover a lot of ground, experiment a lot, and grind out a bunch of work. You can get a good amount of those bad ideas out of the way without getting too hung up open them.
Downside to this is that there are often missed opportunities to dig beneath the surface and truly understand subtitles and nuances that can really make a piece sing.
I think my mindset toward this began to shift with a graphic novel I wrote and drew some years back. It ended up being around 230 pages, and since it was all painted, it took almost 4 years to complete. It was something that just by its nature could not be done in a short amount of time.
While working on it, especially on some of the more complex pages, I came to this realization that I didn’t have to get it all right on the first pass. Some pages would take days, and it was that slower pace that made the problem solving process feel more like chess than wrestling.
It was like lightbulb went on. I became much more deliberate in how I approached pieces, planning and pacing things a bit more. This also allowed me to multi task on multiple pieces more effectively.
Shortly after completing that comic book, I became a parent. This lifestyle change only served further to reinforce more of a slower, layered approach to oil painting. And it opened up a whole new world to me.
Spacing things out and working more in layers creates so many cool new textural opportunities beyond wet-in-wet. I also love the texture and surface that working in more of a layered approach creates. It just brings a completely different dimension to it for me.
Where I’d once feared losing that spontaneity, I discovered that taking my time and working in layers allows for more considered strokes, creating a different and more concise form of liveliness to the mark making. For me it also yields a much more accurate end result. Ive found what might look fine one night can require significant rework the next day, and it’s worth digging in and making a mess if it means it’ll look better. In some ways I feel like its made me more of a confident painter, less afraid that ill ruin what I’ve already put down.
These past years painting more nature-based subject matter, the layering and length I spend on a paintings has increased even more. Some of the more complex forest scenes can take months to complete. Yet again, its less about coming into the studio and wrestling with them so much as it’s evaluating, and making careful, considerate moves. Sometimes they don’t get touched for weeks. Ill keep them up, and make a mental list of stuff I want to address, and when I sit down with it, it might be an hour, might be 15 minutes, but ill have already figured out what I need to do so I’m not searching or meandering.
I wanna close this out by saying that everyone has their own way of working, and while I’ve found this more layered way of working suitable for me, I don’t see this method as superior to working more spontaneously. If anything I’m envious of folks who can do more in one pass than I could in 10. If you’re a working illustrator it’s not cost effective to spend 3 months on a painting. But I will say that working like this has taught me a lot, and if anything it’s reenforced the notion that there are unlimited ways to approach painting.
Hope you all had a great 2018. All my best to you for 2019. Thanks again to Dan and Lexie and all the awesome contributors who make this place such an awesome resource for us.