A Painting’s Evolution

I’ve mentioned before that it can be hard to decide when a painting is finished. But I think many novice painters (myself included) have the opposite problem.

It’s so easy to give up too soon.

Every painting has an “ugly baby” stage. It doesn’t begin to match the desired result. It looks, perhaps, like the work of a small child…or a gifted chimpanzee.  In some media that dry quickly (acrylic) or that have a different process (watercolor) it might be challenging to make changes. In graphite or oils though, persistence can make all the difference between a crude beginning and a satisfying end result. Patient layering, taking time to step back and look, working on small sections one day and holistically the next will pay dividends.

I do love the rare pieces that are finished quickly and just seem to flow. “Acadian Birches” and “January Azalea” are two of my favorite examples. More often, though,  2-3 hour sessions spaced over several days or even weeks are needed. I think about solving problems in the painting even when I’m busy elsewhere. The subconscious is a wonderful thing. After a good night’s sleep or taking a walk, an idea bubbles up out of nowhere and I can’t wait to try it on the painting. Conversely, when immersed in painting I’m often thinking of something else – usually related to the subject of the painting.

This painting, tentatively titled “Silverback”, shows how the painting develops.


The blocking-in stage is crude and a bit out of proportion. The background and big blocks of color are in.


Here the face and especially the eyes start to be defined.


Definition has been added to the fur and ear. The hand is more blocked in. I’ve decided to include the blanket, indicating this is a zoo gorilla.


Finally, highlights are added, some colors and proportions adjusted, and indication of folds given to the blanket. The fingers and long, soft forearm fur are finished. A mop brush smooths some brushstrokes to make the fur look thicker and give the focal emphasis to the expressive face.

Many beginner tutorials say “Just put some paint down and go from there.” It’s true. Next time you get frustrated with a painting, try putting it away for a few days. Come back, add a bit, wait, add more, and see if you don’t end up with a painting you love! “Silverback” will be my entry in the Endangered Art4Apes contest this year.

P.S. Title suggestions are welcome.  “I’m Sexy and I Know It” and “Stay Bananas, My Friends” are tempting but maybe not dignified…:D

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