Tricks of the Trade

How a painting is created might be a mystery for those who have never tried painting. There are a lot of questions about where inspiration comes from, how the idea of a picture is created and how it will finally manifest into a real painting. Well, at least the latter is an easy one to answer, being a mere technical issue, whilst inspiration remains to be a real mystery even for those who get it.
For me it has always been quite obvious to think visually. As a child I had an extremely vivid imagination so much so that I didn’t actually need toys to play with as I could create all the necessary things in my head and it was fun all the same.
In the beginning of the year 2002 during my stay in the USA I had this really significant dream:
I was climbing up the stairs of this huge building until I found a glass room at the end of a corridor. As I went closer I saw that the room was crowded with paintings. I tried to open the glass door but it was locked. I was just standing there, peering inside, awestruck with the number of paintings. It would have been so fantastic to go inside but I couldn’t. I was so intrigued by those paintings, I really wanted to take them out, have a closer look at them out in the sun. I knew that all I had to do was to find the key.
Somewhat later in my life I was given the key: it was painting of course. I have to paint, put the energy and effort into it in order to enable these paintings to come to life. I started working on my own paintings after the dream. Before that I had been too busy with projects and technical issues. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I should have painted my own ideas. The dream reminded me of that.
As I started painting the glass door opened up and the paintings did start pouring out eventually. One idea was followed by the next, I had vasts amount of ideas. I realised the ultimate wealth: this endless resource within myself.
Whenever I sit down, scribbling I always see an idea, a figure first and the more I think about it the clearer I can see the picture in front of me. The figures, the colours, the composition is there, so clear. So I scribble first a small plan quickly and finally all I have to do is to put it on canvas. Or there are times when I catch a glimpse or moment or movement and if I am lucky enough I have my camera with me...if not then I try to persuade them to stay like that for a sec till I get my camera. Of course I might very well fail at both of these so I can only try and memorise the scene as well as I can.
Some other times I find myself thinking of a picture so I try to find a suitable model among my friends and set the scene according to what I have imagined. Sometimes I search for an outside image or picture that helps me reflect my innermost visions. Although I used to paint more from off the top of my head, as the ideas came to me in the first place, now I am more detailed and realistic in depicting these.

Regardless of where the idea came from the first step in the life of a painting is always sketching and composing.

and this is what becomes from the sketches:

I visualise it and try to add the right colours as well. It helps if I make a kind of colour sketch too to make sure I choose the best options.

Sometimes I don’t even use colours, it’s perfectly enough if I draw a colour map:

Then I draw the picture in the same size I will put on canvas. I prefer it this way as I don’t like messing on the canvas, erasing, sketching and the like...I like to put only the final version on the actual canvas. The sketch works like a carbon copy paper: I apply pigment on the back of the paper and put it on the canvas, and then I just re-draw the lines.

When I sit in front of the picture it is more or less complete in my head, all I have to do is paint it. I always know when, how and what I want to paint. I rarely make alterations to the original ideas, maybe a few minor things. Every now and then I just sit down in front of an empty canvas without any plans whatsoever and let it flow... well, there certainly are interesting results of such attempts, here is one for example:

In most of the cases though, I plan the painting very thoroughly. Planning also includes preparing the canvas itself. According to the old masters painting begins with priming the canvas and I couldn’t agree more with them. Depending on how and what the artist wants to paint they can chose the most appropriate canvas and primer. The former can be rough or smooth, the latter can be a fast drying one that absorbs oil quickly or a slow drying, greasy one that absorbs paint very slowly so one can mix colours in slower pace.

Throughout the years I developed my own method, the technique that suits me best: I apply glue jelly on fine canvas first then apply a gesso base. I figured that it is much easier to paint on canvases that are non plastic. Somehow the brush moves on them differently. I like it if the canvas can breathe, it comes to life, and it has a soul. A lot of people think it is an unnecessary waste of time to fidget so long with priming the canvas. It is so much more convenient to go into the store and buy a ready made canvas...but if I did that I would loose a very important part of the work I guess. I like dealing with different materials, stretching, hammering them, or boiling glue or chalk base if I have to prepare a wooden board. I simply like taking the time and I do not by all means find it worthlessly spent.

There is one more trick I like to use when preparing the canvas: on top of the double white priming I apply a third, colourful layer of acrylic. In most cases I use a wine red base, for some reason this proved to be the best option. Although oil pants are normally covering paints, they act differently if there is a white or a warm wine red underneath them. I quite like it if a wine red shines through.
So the drawing comes on the wine red base. Oil painting is a covering technique so after one layer got dry you can add the next. I very often scratch different patterns into the fresh oil paint layer so the former layer’s colour shows in them. This kind of technique needs careful planning. I know what colour the upper layer will be but I also need to consider what to use under it in order to reach the perfect result. This is exactly why I like planning everything step by step and I know the correct order of the different stages. All phases of a painting are equally exciting. One of the most important rules I have learnt throughout my studies is that a painting should always look like a painting – even if it is incomplete it should reflect the whole. One can only think like that as one step always leads to the next.
So here are a few examples to show how I get from the original plans to the final result: