Monday, January 2, 2012

RESOLUTIONS - How to paint a multiple figure composition

A New Year. New Resolutions? What's yours? I don't have one. Here's why.

I will be forever reminded each January 2nd of the biggest resolution I ever took on in my art life, to draw every day of the year through 2010 ('365 Days of Drawing by Johanna Spinks') and post publicly about it all. I pulled it off without missing a single day but wouldn't want to do it ever again despite some glorious moments. A show, a book and a piece in American Artist Magazine. I am still receiving emails about this challenge BTW.

In Jan. 2011 I took on a slightly less ambitious project but a huge commitment, nevertheless, to paint 55 people from life, in a single sitting, representing the old mission town of Ventura, CA, USA, all recorded by the town's newspaper and local radio station, adding to the studio pressure somewhat. The job must be done in a timely fashion with a pretty good likeness at that, so the town can actually recognize it's well-known folks and I don't fall flat as day-old New Year champagne.

So as we all start afresh, taking on new projects, I am reminded and stimulated by a project of Christmas just passed, which I plan on doing more of this year in my studio, the multiple figure painting.

I post an enjoyable project I did toward year's end for a client on an Holiday deadline involving a multiple figure request for a painting around a carnival scene featuring the client's young nieces and nephews to be placed in little vignettes. I was given a completely bare canvas, around concept and execution. The only restrictions really being specifics of age, height and hair color of the children. I hope you find it useful to see how I approached quite a complicated painting in terms of situating the children nicely around good concept, value design, perspective and overall color.

I researched images and ideas for many hours, and sketched a ton, before finally settling on my plan which was then executed fairly smoothly. A rewarding journey I hope for both myself and the client. I was a little sad actually to see this painting ship out.

SCROLL DOWN to see the beginning.

The finished painting, shipped, and approved. A great feeling.
You can see here how much I use my original sketches to the end and inspirational board of master paintings and color swatches of light. I also visit a fairground carousel and take notes. This was really helpful.

More fine-tuning. I want to get left side of the painting full-realized before moving on as I feel the carousel is the most important part of the scene. I am holding on to the warm ground in many parts of the painting, little specs showing through at the finish. Try not to re-work too much, otherwise this effect will be lost.
Slowly start to build up color using the little girl on the lower left as my anchor for the rest of the figures and a color harmony of blue and orange, warms and cools.
The painting, 24 x 32, starts with a very warm ground for the planned night-time scene. I start out with a loose charcoal drawing on the linen canvas, then use burnt umber going over charcoal lines.
A second sketch is made for the client, really nailing down how the enlarged fairground scene is going to look, reducing the figures and making much more of the fairground. The children remain in their original vignettes. I feel it was worth taking the time on this and am very happy with the direction.

An rough oil sketch is made for the client to see, 16 x 20, drawing freehand from the cleaned up acetate. The client prefers the children smaller in the scene. Back to the drawing board, using what I have in this sketch and fine-tuning more.
I clean up my somewhat lively pen and ink enlarged sketch with an acetate sheet so I can see where I am going. I was going to grid up the original 8 x 10 drawing in my sketchbook, but decided not to in the end preferring the spontaneity of the original drawing, lost to my mind, when you grid up.
A few freehand drawings, from my research, in my sketchbook lead me to this concept. I studied as many master paintings of fairgrounds and carnivals that I could get my hands on. I make notes on the drawing about the children's ages, names and height. This is important.


Roseanne said...

I was so in love with this painting when you posted it and to learn of the story and all the work that led to the end result is amazing!! Not just because you are my friend, but because you are an incredible artist, I absolutely LOVE your work!! I may be your biggest fan , behind Jessica, Rosie & Paddy of course!!!

Marian Fortunati said...

WOW.... Absolutely amazing!!!!

I totally agree with everything Roseanne just wrote....

You are soooooooo amazing!

Helen H Trachy said...

Thanks for a beautiful demo!
The result is a lively and colorful painting. Well done.