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  • Writer's pictureJessica Nacovsky

2: How I Plan & Complete My Paintings

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Howdy! I’m going to break down my process for painting. This is less a how-to, and more of a how-I do.

Here’s how, up until very recently, I planned my composition. I’d select from photographs I’ve taken or from my Pinterest inspiration folders, saving two or three to my desktop. Generally I’d have a background pic, a foreground object pic, and a pic of blurry lights or something similarly vague and high contrast. Then, I’d open these pics in Photoshop, where I’d remove the background from my foreground pic, and place it before the new background pic. That’s the basic layout. Then I’d remove the lights from their image, placing them overtop my chosen foreground and background (select highlights, cut & paste). From then on, I would play with filters, often relying strongly on inverted aspects of the pierced-together picture. The resultant mock-up would be high-saturation, with an emphasis on maintaining ambiguity between foreground and background, invoking a sense of motion or energy from the overlaid lights.

In the above image, I circled tools I frequently use in designing my mock-ups, but Wix(the site I used to build my site) has lowered the resolution upon uploading. The notes that were blurred identify the Brightness/Contrast Tool, Hue/Saturation Tool, Invert tool, Selective Color Tool(good for resetting any one color as another, though I mostly use it for making whites whiter and blacks blacker), and the Blending Modes( which can be used to make layers interact with each other. I use multiply to darken shadows, screen to lighten highlights, and difference to create inverted areas).

Now, my process is more of a traditional collage, albeit built in Photoshop rather than from magazine clippings. I’ll crop the hands from one pic, face from another, overall background pattern from a third, and an object or image as a focal point from a fourth, for example. The pieces are placed to build the image(generally a doll) from the background up, feature by feature. Then I play with the saturation, brightness, and color scheme before calling my digital collage the finished mock up. This can take upwards of three hours whereas my previous method usually took anywhere from a half hour to an hour and a half.

Here are the starting features for a mock up I made this past weekend

Here is the final version of that mock up

Whichever method, I generally build it on a digital art board that’s 20x16 inches or of like ratio, as that’s the size of 90% of my physical canvases. By now, I have my grid ready to paste over the digital collage, but were I making it fresh, I’d plot the board into 1inx1in squares(by placing a vertical line every 1in, and a horizontal line every 1in). This makes copying the digital design onto a canvas a billion times easier.

Here is that same mock up, gridded.

Once I have my digital collage ready, and a separate gridded version of the same image, I upload them to Google Docs to access from the Ipad. Then I set the Ipad where it’s near and visible by my easel to match it while I paint. Before I copy the digital collage onto my canvas, I paint the canvas in a base coat of acrylic paint in a color I don't mind showing between swatches of oil paint in the finished piece(green for a nighttime ghostly glow, red for a warm palette, black is almost always a safe go-to, etc), and once that's dry, I grid the 20x16in canvas into 1inx1in squares. The grid color shouldn’t be too far off from the canvas color otherwise it will show through the oils.

Here is my canvas, sloppily gridded.

Then I paint with oils, matching my grid. Sometimes I’ll quick-sketch the outline but generally, I can skip drawing altogether, thanks to my grid system. I begin with high saturation, very light, colors, such as white, yellow, paler skin tones, etc, and work my way to darker or muddier colors.

Here is my general set up, and where I left off the first day of painting my current project.

In the Texas summer, as I paint outside, I schedule my painting sessions for earlier in the day when the weather is cooler. In the winter chill, I tend to stay inside, focusing on my writing instead. Were my studio indoors, I’d paint year round, sticking with either morning or afternoon weekday sessions to maintain the habit.

When my painting is done, I plop it on the drying rack, which is in a closet on my patio. I don’t let my paintings dry outside for fear of how the humidity might affect them, and to shield them from pollen and insects. Van Gogh may have gotten away with it but I suspect potential buyers would be turned off by a grasshopper in the finished piece.

Were I a better planner, before so much as gridding my canvas, I’d already have the hooks and wire hung from the back. Alas, I actually don't attach the hooks nor wire myself, and my assistant(*cough* fiancé *cough) tends to put that task off until I’m about to submit several pieces to a gallery. I’m super grateful he handles the hanging and framing though, as my measuring/tracing skills are pretty lackluster. Precision is not my strong suit. My grids are the perfect example actually, as I don't bother using a ruler while lining the physical canvas unless the piece will be a portrait (meaning precision is necessary).

As for why I stick with 20x16in canvases? The smallest size allowed in my local go-to gallery is 12x12in so no matter what, I’ve got to work larger than that, and I’ve found 20x16in to be reasonably challenging without being overwhelming. That’s my professional sounding reason. The other, less businessy one is that I can buy them in bulk for an affordable price. I buy nearly all of my art supplies in bulk. My last batch of canvases, I ordered 40 at a time, I believe from Blick for $96. I buy frames(Natural Wood color Illusion Floater Frames from Jerry’s Artarama but through Amazon for the better price) in batches of 4. My paint brushes, which tend to be rounds, and my palette knives, which vary, I buy in packs. We(my assistant and I) buy coated wire off Amazon because we couldn’t find it at Home Depot. The hooks come with the frames. Most of my paint is Windsor Newton. I buy the 200ml, as opposed to the 30ml, because it's more for less. As for my watercolors, I don't have much to say about the process but I will include here that I paint 10x8in watercolors because while the watercolor paper is not cheapest at that size, frames are.

Anywho, thanks for stopping by! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!

TL;DR Advice? If you plan your art beforehand, grid it out and use that grid to simplify copying your mockup onto your canvas. When buying supplies, buy bulk whenever possible(but double check the math & make sure it is actually a better deal per unit). Consider the overall cost of your finished project when shopping. If framing is the bigger expense, plan your pieces to be at a size for more affordable frames. Or, create your piece on a surface that doesn't require a frame. If painting on a wood block means no framing, then that wood block is probably worth being more expensive than a canvas would've been.

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