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A-B-C Not as Simple as 1-2-3

Who's up for a How-To?

Most artists or fans who read this column might be curious about the process of painting.  I've talked about it at conventions often enough with live demo's, in the event that someone out there might benefit from it.  Even with the literal hundreds, maybe thousands, of How-To books published in the last 30 years, or all the You-Tube vids on the subject, only a few tutorials might actually be the ones that click in your head.  To that end, I'm going to give it my own shot.

I'll start with the usual 1,2,3 steps of what goes into painting something, in this case, a little boy's head.  To give you some comfort from the get-go, just know that whether it's a person's head, a soup bowl, or an elephant's foot, the rendering process is actually identical for everything you paint.  So breath easy and let's see if I can describe this ordeal different than the usual, 1,2,3, bang, you're done version. 

Painters have a process they go through that involves some pretty basic things.  Why?  Because things need to stay basic or the process can get too overwhelming in the beginning.  That's why we break it down into steps.  Think about riding that bike when you were five.  Before crashing to the ground, there were steps you had to learn and think about first.  If not, you keep crashing.

Painting Demo Step 1

The first one is drawing, or draftsmanship.  You have to be able to draw that elephant's foot before it can look convincing.  That's #1.  Then, using paint, you go over the drawing.  Paint and color--that's what's going to make something look real.  Elephants feet are grey, but how light or dark is that grey?  Look at it, and paint it that shade of grey.  Some people draw in things tightly before than begin painting.  Others just start in with swishing paint around and do their drawing with their brush.  It's the same process, but people do it differently based on their personalities.

Before you sign your name to your masterpiece, all finished paintings need to have the same basic thing before it can look real.  You get this by taking the right color and putting it in the right place.  That's #2.

Painting Demo Step 2

That's what it comes down to.  So congratulations--a few hundred years of practice and you're ready for the big leagues.  Hey, don't feel bad--we Illustrators spend our entire lives trying to do just that!

Everyone ready?  Just grab a brush and start painting. 
That would be step #3--it's called diligent practice.  Make your mistakes, and screw up all you want, but keep learning, thinking, and practicing.  And with that ever-present practice, we might actually get better, a little bit at a time.

The photo shown here of the boy's head, by the way, was taken from 1945 photo reference sent to me by longtime illustrator, Robert Barren, recently deceased. 

Photo Reference

Yeah, that's Robert's friend, illustrator great Harry Anderson, standing in for the adult figure.  I painted this study of the kid's head in my sketchbook using gouache, or opaque watercolor, as I like to call it.

Questions?  If you have any questions beyond what I've briefly described here, probably a few hundred, know that as soon as you start practicing on your own, many of those questions will answer themselves.   Remember, most things are only simple in theory.  That's why it's the dogged practice that makes you good!

The best of luck to you!

S.D.R.

Next up:  The hardest method of all:  Painting in Transparent Watercolor!

  • Apr 20, 2020
  • Category: Blogs
  • Comments: 0
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